Monitor, the independent regulator of National Health Service foundation trusts, has given the go ahead to the creation of two more trusts, as well as the expansion of services at the South Staffordshire FT.

The two new authorisations – for Heatherwood and Wexham Park Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Dorset County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust – take effect from June 1, bringing the total number in the NHS to 67 with a combined income of £12.8 billion, Monitor says.

Foundation trusts, the first of which came into being in 2004, are a flagship component of the government’s healthcare reform programme, and play a key role in the drive to move away from a centrally-reigned Service to one that is managed locally.

Free reign

An FT badge essentially means that trusts are free from central government control and can decide themselves on how to better their services. FTs also have greater control of the purse strings in that they can retain any surpluses they generate or borrow money from outside sources to support investments, and they are accountable to their local communities.

“Today’s announcement means more patients will benefit from the freedoms associated with NHS foundation trust status,” commented Monitor Executive Chair William Moyes. “We are authorising two new foundation trusts that have completed our rigorous assessment process, which ensures successful applicants are well managed and financially strong in order to deliver high quality patient care.”

Monitor also announced that it has given its seal of approval to South Staffordshire NHS FT’s planned purchase of a mental health learning and disability directorate from Shropshire County Primary Care Trusts. Following the move, it will be known as the South Staffordshire and Shropshire NHS Foundation Trust.

According to Moyes, this “is another good example of an existing foundation trust utilising its freedoms to expand the services it can provide for its patients. We expect that as foundation trusts become more established they will explore opportunities such as this to increase their activity.”

Tougher application process

Meanwhile, in its business plan for 2007-8, the group says it is planning to tighten up the application process for FT status, in an attempt to put off “overly ambitious” applications and make the best use of its limited assessment slots.

The group says that it is able to evaluate 50 FT applications, including merger or acquisition proposals - a year. But it believes that 2007-8 will see significant merger and acquisitions activity “as the NHS seeks to reorganise provision to tackle long-standing financial weaknesses,” which will have a “knock-on effect” on the amount of authorisations it can complete. This, in part, has spurred Monitor’s move to refine its application processes to ensure the best use of its “limited assessment capacity.”