Published: 17/03/2005, Volume II5, No. 5947 Page 7

A new development programme is to be launched to help acute and mental health trusts prepare for foundation status.

All trusts will also move to the accounting regime used by foundation trusts from April next year - with a trial period beforehand.

Sir Nigel said the move was partly a response to trusts' concerns about the relatively short time made available to prepare for foundation status. The programme will be developed by foundation trust regulator Monitor, strategic health authorities and trusts themselves.

From April 2006 trusts will also move to the accounting system used by foundation trusts, although Sir Nigel stressed they would not have the same borrowing powers.

It would mean trusts would have to take account not just of how much of their annual budget they have spent, but how much income is generated under payment by results and what providing that care had cost.

Sir Nigel said: 'We want boards of NHS trusts to start thinking of themselves as running 'going concerns' and we will expect them to do their accounts in that way and to start looking at how they are using money and resources in the same way foundation trusts do.' Finance consultant Noel Plumridge said: 'I think [Sir] Nigel Crisp has avoided using the word business, but that is actually the way foundation trusts are being asked to operate and there are some good reasons why NHS [non-foundation] trusts should operate in the same way.

'But to do this they need good systems, good financial skills, and boards as a whole to think of the trust as a business. These are some of the lessons that have been learnt in the first wave of foundation trusts, but to prepare all trusts for this will mean changes to boards.'