Twenty hospital trusts in England have been given the go-ahead to bid for foundation trust status.
Dr John Reid, the health secretary, also announced that leading mental health trusts will be able to apply for foundation status for the first time.
The next trusts will be authorised in November 2004 and February 2005, with 20 already established in England.
The scheme gives greater financial and management freedom, but requires trusts to achieve the top three-star rating.
NHS Trusts that can apply for Foundation status
Barnsley District General Hospital
Birmingham Heartlands and Solihull
Birmingham Women's Healthcare
Chesterfield and North Derbyshire Royal Hospitals
Frimley Park Hospitals
Lancashire Teaching Hospitals
Liverpool Women's Hospital
Nottingham City Hospital
Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases
South Tyneside Healthcare
The Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals
The Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch
West Suffolk Hospitals
Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh
Four of the existing NHS trusts with foundation status dropped a star in the latest performance ratings.
Mr Reid said the announcement of the new wave of trusts was "another important step on the road to decentralisation", freeing up the NHS from day-to-day Whitehall control and giving local patients more power.
"We're committed to ensuring that all Trusts have NHS foundation status by 2008," he added.
The Department of Health will keep working with NHS trusts which had deferred applications or had not secured a three-star rating, he added.
Mr Reid said an application from South Devon Healthcare NHS Trust had been refused, but it would receive help to secure foundation status as soon as