Many NHS trusts need to tackle a range of financial, quality and governance issues if they are to meet the standards required of them to become self-governing foundation trusts by 2014, according to the National Audit Office. The Department of Health and the NHS will now have to decide how they will deal with those facing the most severe problems.
The processes the Department has put in place to help NHS trusts achieve foundation status have brought matters to a head, by highlighting the challenges many trusts face in proving their long term viability.
For some trusts the pathway to foundation trust status will be relatively straightforward. However, at least 20 trusts face such substantial problems that they have recognised they are not financially or clinically viable in their current form. These problems are often deep-seated and long-standing. Size and location can cause problems, including a mismatch between hospital capacity and local demand for services from commissioners. In some cases the Department will need to be involved in decisions about and support for reconfigurations of local hospital services.
Other trusts may have less severe problems, but will still have to improve their financial and, in some cases, clinical performance if they are to be sustainable in the long term and become foundation trusts. A number of these trusts, will need additional support from the Department, such as helping them to strengthen their management and governance arrangements.
The most common challenges are financial. In July 2011, the Department’s assessment was that 48 out of the 113 candidate trusts were unlikely to meet the regulator Monitor’s tests of trusts’ financial viability. An initial review of 22 trusts with major PFI schemes has identified up to six trusts for which the scale of debt repayments, together with other financial problems, means that they are not currently viable.
The difficulty of achieving foundation trust status is magnified by the challenge trusts face in making year-on-year cost savings of at least four per cent. Many trusts will have to achieve even greater savings than this to show that they are financially viable.