The Department of Health has issued a stark warning to strategic health authority chiefs to send 'only the strongest' trusts to Monitor to be assessed for foundation status.

In a letter to all SHA chief executives, DoH director-general for finance, performance and operations David Flory said SHAs must ensure that they only nominate trusts if they are 'satisfied that they should be in a position to be high-performing NHS foundation trusts'.

In his letter, sent on 2 October, Mr Flory also warns that SHAs that re-nominate previously unsuccessful trusts to go forward next July - forming the wave eight group of authorisations - will need to provide them with 'unequivocal support'. He said this should include a detailed explanation of why the trust's previous foundation application had been rejected and how the issues identified then had been dealt with.

Meanwhile Monitor has announced that all aspiring foundation trusts will be given just three months to remedy inadequate foundation plans before they are pushed back to the bottom of the waiting list. At present Monitor allows trusts to defer applications by up to 12 months.

According to the regulator the three-month deadline will be applied where it believes the issues identified in a particular trust 'are capable of resolution by the application themselves'.

But Monitor will make exceptions for trusts where it decides the 'issues identified are outside the direct control of the trust', in which case they may still be granted up to 12 months' deferral.

Monitor chair Bill Moyes said: 'The refinements we have made to our assessment process give applicant trusts with specific issues more time to ensure they meet the rigorous standards set by Monitor when the time comes. Hopefully this will prevent delays in the system that affect other applicants'.