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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 October 2005, 23:51 GMT 00:51 UK
Plea over elite hospitals drive
Hospital care
There are 32 foundation trusts in total
Hospitals in England need more help if they are all to apply for foundation status, health managers say.

The Foundation Trust Network, which represents all 32 elite trusts, said support was needed with applications and to compete with the private sector.

The network made the call as it published a report listing the achievements of the trusts so far.

The government, which wants all acute trusts to apply for the status by 2008, said it would consider the suggestions.

The network's report praised the progress made by the trusts since foundation status started being phased in in April 2004.

We believe that several simple steps would help build up a head of steam to establish a critical mass of foundation trusts
Sue Slipman, of the Foundation Trust Network

Among the successes listed are a range of initiatives from new car parks to cardiology units.

However, there have also been high-profile embarrassments. Last December the foundation trust regulator Monitor removed the chairman of a trust in Bradford after millions of pounds of debt were run up.

Foundation trusts are top-performing NHS hospitals which have been given freedom from government control and have the ability to raise their own funds.

But the network said the government's aim to have all 173 acute hospital trusts applying for foundation trusts status in the next three years would fail unless changes were made.

It said the application process, which takes nine months on average and requires separate submissions to the Department of Health and Monitor, needed to be streamlined.

'Equal footing'

And the network said trusts should be given advice about areas they need to improve to achieve foundation status when they are considering applying - of the trusts which have been rejected, bad governance and finances have been the overwhelming reasons.

Officials also called for trusts to be able to compete on an equal footing with the private sector for independent sector treatment centres.

To date foundation trusts have not been able to bid for contracts for the units which carry out minor treatments.

Sue Slipman, director of the network, said: "The government wants all acute hospital trusts in England to have the opportunity to apply for foundation trust status by 2008.

"That will only happen if trusts are given more support in applying and if foundation trust status is made more attractive.

"We believe that several simple steps would help build up a head of steam to establish a critical mass of foundation trusts."

Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt said the Department of Health would look at the suggestions and was "always open to new ideas".

And Monitor added: "The application process is arduous, but it is quite right it is a rigorous assessment.

"We are looking at the application process to make sure there is no duplication in submissions to us and the government."

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