Revised Model Election Rules (Rules) have been released for use in elections to foundation trust councils of governors which, for the very first time, enable the use of internet, telephone and text voting, as well as traditional postal voting.

The new Rules were developed by Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (the Trust) and sponsored by the Foundation Trust Network. In a joint letter from Chris Hopson, chief executive of the FTN, and Karen Partington, chief executive of the Trust (here), circulated on 4 August 2014, Chris and Karen confirm that the Department of Health and Monitor have been fully involved in the development of these new Rules and have endorsed them.

Implementation

The vast majority of foundation trusts follow the wording of the latest Model Core Constitution within their constitution. The Model Core Constitution states as follows:

‘15.1 Elections for elected members of the Council of Governors shall be conducted in accordance with the Model Election Rules.

15.2 The Model Election Rules as published from time to time by the Department of Health form part of this constitution. The Model Election Rules current at the date of the trust’s Authorisation are attached at Annex 5.

15.3 A subsequent variation of the Model Election Rules by the Department of Health shall not constitute a variation of the terms of this constitution for the purposes of paragraph 48 of the constitution(amendment of the constitution). (Emphasis added).’

Therefore, as the new Rules have not been published by the Department of Health, it is not expected that these Rules will be automatically implemented within foundation trusts. Trusts will have to consciously decide whether or not to implement them for their organisations.

As stated within the joint letter from Chris Hopson and Karen Partington, it is for the sector to take the lead. Foundation trusts (and NHS trusts in the foundation trust application process) are therefore encouraged to consider these new Rules (click here to view) and whether they wish to adopt the revised version themselves.

The Rules

The new Rules potentially enable the return of nomination forms electronically which, it is hoped, will make the nomination process for any budding governors more accessible. 

Moreover, the Rules pave the way for votes in governor elections to be made over the internet, by telephone, by text message, by post or by a combination of these methods. 

There is also an option, through Rule 19.4, for a trust to decide that voters within a constituency (or class within a constituency) for whom an email address is included in the list of eligible voters, may only cast their votes at a poll vote using an ‘e-voting’ method of polling. It is expected that trusts will use this power cautiously initially, so as to not to prevent any eligible voters from voting by the traditional postal methods while the new e-voting methods are rolled out and embedded.

Trusts should also note the provisions of Rule 42.2 - this requires a board of directors and a council of governors to approve both the use of vote counting software and a policy governing the use of such software. This Rule has been inserted to ensure that the board and council are assured as to the appropriateness of vote counting software for their organisation before its use.  It is expected that such approval will require a statement from the Returning Officer providing due diligence assurances as to the use of such software.   

Expected impact

These revised Rules are to be applauded as a welcome initiative to improve engagement with members and governors and to encourage candidates to stand forward as governors.  Technology has moved quickly over the last decade and it is time for foundation trust elections to follow suit. Furthermore, it is hoped that these new voting methods, once embedded, will provide valuable reductions in the costs of running governor elections over time.

Paul Howard, trust secretary at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, provided the following comment to Hill Dickinson:

‘We offered electronic voting in the recent elections to our council of governors and 20% of votes were cast online. The electronic option was well received by our members and governors, who described it as simple and straight-forward to use. Electronic voting is also effective because voters cannot accidentally spoil their ballot paper. Those who did not wish to vote online were still able to post their ballot papers as usual and there were safeguards in place to ensure that members could not vote online and by post. We hope that providing different ways to vote in elections to FT councils of governors will increase member participation and engagement and hopefully we will be able to reduce the costs associated with elections in the medium-to-longer term.’

Feedback and further information/advice

The joint letter from the Foundation Trust Network and Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (referenced above) explains how to provide feedback on the new Rules.