Three struggling acute providers set to be acquired by other trusts received £28m of “sweetener” loans from the Department of Health, HSJ can disclose.

Analysis of DH spending data by HSJ gives the clearest picture so far of payments made to NHS providers during 2010-11.

The data, released as part of a government transparency drive, shows two NHS trusts received “working capital” loans on 15 March this year.

Whipps Cross University Hospital Trust received £16.2m in March, equivalent to 6.6 per cent of its turnover. It also received £6m of capital funding in November. The trust also has £25m of loans from the London challenged trust board, funded by the capital’s primary care trusts. Meanwhile, the trust has said it must make savings this year worth 11 per cent of its turnover.

The DH also gave Newham University Hospital a £5m working capital loan in March. Newham has £1m in outstanding loans from the challenged trust board.

Winchester and Eastleigh Healthcare Trust received a £6.5m working capital loan from the DH in December. It has also received £5.4m from NHS South Central’s system investment and reform fund, money held back from routine health spending.

All three are being acquired by other trusts as they are unlikely to achieve foundation trust status alone.

One FT finance director said: “The DH will give some of the struggling trusts an injection to try and get them into a faintly attractive state financially before a merger. It’s a sweetener really.”

Independent consultant Noel Plumridge said: “Working capital is code for having enough cash to keep going, and avoid the embarrassment of not being able to pay the salaries.”