By the time the Care Quality Commission finishes inspecting the acute sector under its new regime up to 30 hospital trusts could have been placed in “special measures”, the regulator’s chair suggested yesterday.

David Prior also endorsed the idea of drafting in successful operators of foreign hospital chains to turn around failing NHS organisations.

Speaking at a seminar in London yesterday, Mr Prior said: “There are probably thirty hospitals in England that we know have been bumping along the bottom for forever… actually we can all name them in a sense – we all know which ones they are.”

When asked for further clarification on this list, Mr Prior referred to the 14 trusts which have so far been placed in special measures. These were trusts which had been “failing”, he said.

He said he anticipated that by the time all of England’s acute hospitals had been inspected in December 2015, a total of “between 20 and 30” trusts would have been identified in this position.

To turn around these organisations, Mr Prior backed the idea recently proposed by health secretary Jeremy Hunt of large, successful providers running underperforming trusts in hospital “chains”.

“I’ve come to the view that we have got some outstanding NHS trusts in England… Why don’t we let them take on these poorly performing hospitals?”

“Of course there’s always the risk of overstretch, but they’ve got the track record, they know how it’s done,” he said.

Last month Mr Hunt announced that Sir David Dalton, chief executive of Salford Royal Foundation Trust, would lead a review of the feasibility of hospital chains in the NHS.

However, Mr Prior recommended an even more radical solution: inviting successful operators of foreign hospital chains to take over failing NHS hospitals.

He said: “I know this won’t go down well in some quarters, but actually there are some great continental [European] hospital chains as well, great American hospital chains.

“Why don’t we use their management – keep the hospitals as part of the NHS – but why don’t we attract them to come over and help us turn round these failing hospitals?”

Mr Prior has previously called for “more entrants into the [NHS] market” from the private and voluntary sectors.

Speaking to HSJ yesterday, he said the involvement of overseas providers in the NHS could be achieved through long term management contracts, with hospital assets staying within the health service and the providers “operating within the same rules as the rest of the NHS”.

Mr Prior cited the private company Circle’s 10-year franchise to operate Hinchingbrooke Health Care Trust as a potential model which could be used to harness foreign expertise.

“We should bring the best possible managers in the world into the NHS,” he said.