Hospital freedom bids delayed for six months

Data shortfall and new directors hit moves to foundation status

Marc Mullen

THE Royal Free and Whittington Hospitals have been forced to delay their applications for foundation status until December.

Both hospitals were due to gain foundation status last month.

The move would give them full control of their finances.

At the Royal Free in Hampstead, the process has been put on hold because it was unable to supply relevant financial information on time.

Trusts must prove to Monitor, the independent regulator for foundation trusts, that they have appropriate corporate governance arrangements in place and are financially viable before foundation status can be granted.

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Arthur Brill, former head of watchdog the Patient and Public Involvement Forum, which was disbanded in March, is now a member of the Royal Free Trust's shadow council. He said: "To my mind, any management worth its salt should have been aware of what they had to do.

"We were disappointed when they told us that they were postponing the application for three months. But now they are postponing it for nine months.

"They have done very well in turning around the finance. Monitor has asked for more detailed information than expected and I would have expected the hospital management to have known."

Another member of the shadow council, who wished to remain anonymous, said: ""Everybody on the council was a little surprised that it had slipped by another six months."

Both the Royal Free and the Whittington have been forced to review their five-year business plans in light of the recently completed consultation on a government report, Healthcare For London. The report looks at the commissioning of healthcare across London and has delayed all applications by hospitals in the city.

Last financial year, the Hampstead-based Royal Free met the financial targets for foundation status application - with a £28million surplus, which included a £5.4million profit on the sale of the Mount Vernon nursing home.

Royal Free chief executive Andrew Way said: "Although we are understandably very focused on the date of authorisation, it is very important that the services we have in place are sustainable, consistent with PCT commissioner intentions, and acceptable to our patients and the communities we serve."

In August 2006, Mary Leadbeater joined the trust as finance director, having successfully taken the Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Trust to foundation status.

On her appointment, she said: "I am delighted to be joining the Royal Free and being part of the team taking the trust forward to foundation trust status."

The Whittington, based in Highgate Hill, says it has delayed its application to allow new members of its board time to settle in.

Joe Liddane joined the Whittington as chairman in November 2007 and three new non-executive directors joined last December.

A Whittington spokeswoman said: "The Whittington advised Monitor that it wished to postpone its application until later in the year and it has accepted this request. The Whittington has recruited about 4,200 members of the public and patients as members of the new foundation trust."