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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 January 2008, 17:37 GMT
Health board elections outlined
Nicola Sturgeon talking with a patient
Ms Sturgeon wants more public involvement

Plans for direct elections to health boards to help boost public confidence in the health service have been announced by the Scottish Government.

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said many people believed that health authorities had not always properly listened to local views.

The proposal will be outlined in draft legislation to be brought before parliament in the summer.

The Liberal Democrats and Labour are unconvinced about the plans.

Ms Sturgeon said ministers understood that difficult decisions had to be made about NHS services, but that local people should be at the heart of the process.

This is an extremely disappointing document from the SNP
Margaret Curran
Labour health spokeswoman

One of the earliest acts of the new Scottish Government was to reverse decisions by the previous administration to close accident and emergency units at Ayr hospital and Monklands in Lanarkshire, which had caused a local outcry.

"Some recent decisions to change the way NHS services in Scotland are delivered have raised strong feeling in local communities and many people believe that some NHS boards have not taken sufficient account of the views of local people," Ms Sturgeon said.

The public has been asked for their views on health board elections - to be contained in a Local Healthcare Bill - over the next few months.

'Strong case'

Elections across Scotland's 14 NHS boards would cost about 5m, but would depend on their size and scope.

Ms Sturgeon said there was a "very strong case" for having a majority of members elected, but added that the minority Holyrood administration would have to recognise the wide-ranging views on the issue.

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Ross Finnie said: "I want the Scottish Government to consider extending the role and powers of local councillors to involve them in decisions about health services in their areas."

Margaret Curran, the Labour health spokeswoman, said the public consultation document was short on detail, adding: "This is an extremely disappointing document from the SNP. This consultation has no preferred option, no different models and no detail."

The announcement was welcomed by the government-established Scottish Health Council.

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