NHS trusts need to improve the way they publish election results

even newer twitter logoAnalysis for Health Election Data (7 November 2015) about the poor quality of election results publication at NHS Foundation Trusts. I highlighted various instances of bad practice, from delayed publication to the withholding of key information.

The UK does not do election results very well. While the results of a general election are released in a reasonably  comprehensive way, the same is rarely true for other types of election. For more detailed discussion read my blog post on Democratic Audit, which has launched the Democratic Dashboard site to help remedy this problem.

In general, NHS Foundation Trust elections fall into the ‘poor practice’ category for the publication of election results. In this post, I am going to highlight several examples of common failings identified by Health Election Data. This comes with a pre-apology to the individual trusts concerned – they are not necessarily breaking any rules here, and are not the only examples we could have discussed (or even the worst). If any trusts want to get in touch for a bit of advice on how to improve, they are very welcome.

Question marks

Many trusts publish election results with key pieces of information missing. One of the most common failings is not releasing the turnout figure. Governor elections at Moorfields Eye Hospital is one recent example. Look at this results sheet from March and you will see that is has very detailed information on it, specifically the number of rejected ballots and precise reasons for each rejection. While this is of course of interest to administrators, voters are certainly more interested to know what the overall level of participation was.

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals is another example where the gaps in the information provided are quite incomprehensible. Again, the trust provides the number of rejected ballots and precise reasons for each rejection. It also publishes turnout. But it doesn’t publish the election results themselves, that is, the number of votes received by the candidates. For elections that are uncontested, there is a strange distinction between public elections (where the number of available positions is stated) and staff elections (where it is not).

Winners enclosure

Many trusts are guilty of this offence – only revealing the names of winning candidates, rather than all candidates. Southend University HospitalCentral and North West London (CNWL) and Airedale NHS Foundation Trust are three recent examples. Airedale provides no election result information other than the list of winners, while Southend and CNWL provide the turnout, electorate size and even the proportion votes cast online, but still the candidate list is restricted to winners. None of these trusts reveal the number of votes received by the winners.

On a number of occasions, when I have requested this information directly from trusts I have been informed that data protection rules prevent them revealing the names of losing candidates, a rather preposterous statement when these are open elections to senior positions at large public bodies. Thankfully, every trust taking this position has relented when challenged.

Why are we waiting?

Some trusts are incredibly slow at publishing their results. Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust actually publishes comprehensive information about its elections, in a uniquely well-ordered manner – one page on its website hosts the notice of poll, notice of election and results documents for every election year, in a simply formatted table. Unfortunately they have been very slow in uploading the information this year – their latest elections concluded in May 2015, and at the time of writing have still not been published.

North East London NHS Foundation Trust’s lack of timeliness is almost comical. Its latest election also concluded in May, and the elections page of its website currently states, and I quote, “The successful candidates will be announced on our website site [sic] on Thursday 21 May 2015.” Needless to say, 21 May is long gone and there is no sign of any announcement, either on the elections page or among the site’s regular news articles. Interestingly – using that term loosely – the trust has entered all members who take part in the elections into a prize draw, where they can “win one of three NELFT goody bags, packed with healthy treats to set you up for summer.” I hope the winning members haven’t been waiting as long for their goody bags as we have for the election results.

For our eyes only

Yeovil District Hospital’s error is that election information is buried deep with agenda papers for Council of Governors meeting, rather than a more accessible part of their site. See the latest 154-page monstrosity here. In March 2015, one of their agenda papers set out the upcoming process for the elections, and in June another agenda paper included the results (partial results – only the winning candidates were listed, with no vote data). This information cannot be found anywhere else on the website. Indeed, nobody would even know it was within the agenda papers unless they’d already opened the document. Interestingly – again, loosely – the relevant agenda paper from June notes the trusts’s disappointment with turnout: “It is positive that all seats were contested in the 2015 round. However, it is acknowledged that levels of turnout could be improved,” it states. A bit more publicity, perhaps?

Look, I’m sure all of the trusts criticised here send out all relevant information to members in the post in a timely fashion, encouraging them to participate in elections. But that’s not good enough, at a time when the web is increasingly important as a source of electoral information. Why this matters is that publishing election results effectively is a chance to continue engaging with voters. It tells them what happened after they put their x in a box, and shows them that their vote matters. Next time around, voters will be more likely to think it important to engage in the electoral process.

Image: Wikimedia Foundation. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons