A so-called 'modernisation fortnight' for health organisations to measure the gap between current performance and NHS plan targets will now take at least six months, due to the complexity of the task, pilot studies have revealed.

The pilots, which were carried out in Bedfordshire, Croydon and Northumberland, were used to draw up national guidance before all other health authorities begin 'modernisation fortnight' at the start of next month.

Under original plans set out in February, HAs had been due to report key findings to regional offices by July and outline strategies for delivery of the plan.

But the pilot's co-ordinator, Brian Stapleton, head of Health Croydon, a joint initiative between Croydon HA and the London borough of Croydon, said a new 'more achievable' timetable had now been agreed with NHS chief executive Nigel Crisp.

Mr Stapleton said: 'We realised halfway through that this was not going to be finished by July. As a result of our feedback the schedule has been revised. Nigel Crisp feels this is too important to be rushed. '

Now every local health system will have until the end of July to scan across all of the NHS plan's 50-plus priorities and assess current progress and the likelihood of meeting targets for 2005 and beyond.

From August to November the detailed planning stage will take place, in which outline plans will be converted into robust delivery plans. These revised plans could involve an element of 're-engineering' to stay within existing resources.

'That is more achievable - you can't carry out a six-month process in six weeks, 'Mr Stapleton said.

Croydon decided to concentrate on areas where it was likely to struggle to meet plan targets, such as waiting times in accident and emergency wards and orthopaedics, rather than examine all the targets.

The HA also looked at local modernisation review developments in coronary heart disease and mental health against national service framework priorities.

'The full scanning exercise has about 40 or 50 areas, but we looked at four or five and that involved talking to 20 or 30 people in each, ' Mr Stapleton explained.

'It is very helpful to learn from other health economies. It would be a more difficult process where there are no coterminous boundaries for HA, local authority, primary care trusts, and so on. We are very joined up here. If anywhere can do joined-up working it must be Croydon. '

Bedfordshire HA's pilot study concentrated on the process of the review and has resulted in the production of a toolkit, which will help other health systems carry out their own reviews.

Sue Grey, the authority's head of service planning and modernisation, said the toolkit has two uses:

'It can be used to identify national and local priorities and gaps in the modernisation agenda targets. It is also an investment benefit analysis tool which can be used to look at the local problems and suggest re-engineering solutions to keep within existing resource allocations. '

Ms Grey said managers, clinicians and the public could use the tool. 'We wanted to produce something that was not just for professionals that would engage all stakeholders in a way that would influence things. '