More than 20 hospital trust boards have signed up to a leadership training programme which they hope will help them make efficiency savings and achieve foundation status, HSJ has learned.

The NHS Leadership Academy is also providing support to 10 foundation trusts which have admitted their board members need help.

The programme offers development and support to boards on a confidential basis, so their names are not being made public.

So far six trusts have successfully completed the process, 15 are having their problems assessed and tackled while another 12 are in talks about receiving help in future.

The trusts are first visited by three senior staff from the Leadership Academy: Its foundation trust support programme project director Chris Gordon, former NHS Top Leaders Programme quality, innovation productivity and prevention lead David Thomas and former King’s Fund head of leadership Liz Thiebe.

They draw up detailed statements about each trusts’ problems then associates are sent to help resolve them. The NHS trusts receive a “significant discount” on a contract with one of four private consultant firms who have been procured by the academy to offer support. They are KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers, The Hay Group and GE Healthcare.

Dr Gordon said trusts using the programme ranged from very troubled to those that had nearly achieved foundation status.

He said: “Some are pretty recognisably in trouble. There are a cohort who are close to the finishing line, there are a few trusts who are having an enormous amount of attention addressed to them. Then there is a big chunk in the middle where our main focus is.”

Dr Gordon said it was important the programme was not seen as a “diagnostic tool” to assess trusts.

He told HSJ: “Trusts will tell you that they are diagnosed to within an inch of their lives. The vast majority recognise the nature of the challenge and are looking for something different, which they need to do to get to where they need to be [to be authorised].”

Dr Gordon said the most common major problems for trusts were securing clinical leadership, achieving strategic goals, and board development.

He said many senior leaders did not find time to address leadership issues. He said: “It is very difficult for people who are in a tight situation in trusts where money is tight and they are under a lot of pressure.”