Votes at 16 in NHS Foundation Trust elections

even newer twitter logoMy post for Health Election Data (August 2014) on the practice of allowing 16 year olds to vote and stand in NHS Foundation Trust elections. This makes NHS elections almost unique – fully before the Scottish independence referendum – and could mean they provide a valuable source of research evidence.

In the upcoming Scottish independence referendum, 16 and 17 year olds will be able to cast a vote. They can already do so in elections in the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey. The leaders of the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties have backed the lowering of the voting age to 16 for all UK elections.

Few seem to have noticed that the NHS has been conducting a 10-year experiment with a lowered voting age, in Foundation Trust elections. Anyone who has joined a trust a patient, employee or member of the public is entitled to vote in governor elections. That includes people under 18.

Although no full audit has been conducted, it is clear that many trusts allow under 18s to become members. The Bradford Teaching Hospitals trust allows anyone aged 16 or over to join – this appears to be the norm. But some have lower minimums: in the Dudley Group trust, the minimum age of members is 14, while for the Northamptonshire Healthcare trust it is 12. For each of these trusts, elected governors must be aged 16 or over.

Although NHS elections are different from other public elections in many respects, it would still be interesting to examine how young people participate and to what extent. No research has yet been conducted in this area, however.

A few trusts have specific constituencies for young patients/service users: the results of these elections might provide some useful information, although to date there are no such elections in the Health Election Centre database.

I support votes at 16, but recognise there are good arguments for and against. What is relatively thin on the ground is evidence. With few countries having made this change and little research conducted in those that have, NHS Foundation Trusts might provide a valuable case study.


Image: Adam Scotti