NHS Trust Development Authority chief executive David Flory insists there has been “no change” to the policy of driving trusts through the foundation trust pipeline by April 2014.

In his first interview in the post, Mr Flory told HSJ that although “a handful” of trusts were likely to miss the target - introduced by former health secretary Andrew Lansley - it remained in place.

He also denied the window for reconfiguring hospital services had been closed following reports that Mr Lansley’s successor Jeremy Hunt had ordered a review of service change proposals.

The Trust Development Authority will combine powers previously held by separate bodies including the Department of Health, Appointments Commission and strategic health authorities, including the ability to sack boards and control capital allocation. The trusts overseen by it have a combined turnover of £30bn.

But Mr Flory said the authority’s “whole focus” was supporting trusts through the pipeline while driving out variation in service quality - and that this was more significant than any specific powers it would wield.

“Our focus is on the quality of service,” he said, “not just as a quick fix or a ‘today issue’.

“Our work will mean we can be confident, Monitor can be confident and the organisations can be confident that quality is sustainable going forward.

“We have seen as a consequence of history, geography and the way things have worked to date, variation in the way care is provided across the country; we can really drive that [variation] out.”

He admitted the tripartite formal agreement process instigated by former DH director of delivery Ian Dalton last September to monitor trusts’ progress through the pipeline had “not been perfect”,  but said it had brought “focus and momentum”.

He said 22 of the 103 pipeline trusts had submitted an application, either to their SHA, the DH or Monitor, and that 40 per cent of trusts in the pipeline would be at one of these stages by April 2013.

The authority takes on its full powers to push non-foundation trusts through the FT pipeline this month. It has an annual budget of £27m and will employ 230 staff.

Four regional directors of delivery and development will shepherd the remaining trusts through the pipeline: Alwen Williams in London; Stephen Dunn in the South; Dale Bywater in the Midlands and East; and Yasmin Chaudhry in the North.