The UK’s new foundation trusts have delivered real improvements to both patient care and hospital running, but the Foundation Trust Network warns that the Government needs to “step up the pace” if the target for national roll-out is to be met in 2008.

Foundation trusts were set in law in 2003 to give high-performing trusts – those with three-stars – greater freedoms to move away from central Government control and give local communities responsibility for delivering acute healthcare services. This allows each trust more autonomy in managing its own affairs, with more financial and operational freedom, while being assessed by an independent regulator. Each trust has a duty to consult a board of governors - consisting of patients, staff, members of the public and other key stakeholders - in the strategic planning of operations, thereby allowing the best decisions to be made in the interests of the local population.

Speaking at a reception in the Houses of Parliament to mark the launch of the report, Sue Slipman, Director of the Network, said: “When the first foundation trusts went live in April 2004, their critics warned that they would have a detrimental effect on healthcare…but their added value has been enormous.”

The current target is to enable all NHS hospitals to apply for foundation trust status by 2008, though some are sceptical as to whether this can be achieved. “This will only happen if trusts are given more support in applying and if foundation trust status is made more attractive,” Ms Slipman noted.

Ms Slipman told PharmaTimes News Online that the single most significant hurdle to overcome in meeting the 2008 objective is that of preparation. “We are asking for an enormous transition,” she said, explaining: “NHS hospitals used to being performance-managed will become self-running organisations, which requires a vast amount of preparation, especially for those that do not meet the required standard for foundation status application.”

A strong supporter of the scheme from the outset, Health Secretary, Patricia Hewitt, stated: “Foundation trusts are already using new freedoms and engaging members of public for better healthcare.” She concluded by summing up her vision of the “new NHS” as representing: “The best possible health, the best possible care, and all for the best value for money.”