Control of England's three high-security hospitals could be removed from local NHS control, HSJ has learned.
Broadmoor, Rampton, and Ashworth hospitals could be controlled independently, in a return to a policy that was scrapped due to a series of high-profile scandals when they were managed separately by special hospital authorities.
A senior source within the high-security hospital system told HSJ that running the hospitals separately was one of a number of options being considered by the government. The source said: 'I think it would be a mistake to run them independently.
'There have been high benefits of having these hospitals integrated with the mainstream NHS, with enormous gains in terms of overall therapeutic impact.'
The potential change emerged as the three mental health trusts that currently run the hospitals were told by health secretary Patricia Hewitt that they would not be given foundation status.
Mersey Care trust, which runs Ashworth Hospital, Nottinghamshire Healthcare trust, which runs Rampton, and West London Mental Health trust, which operates Broadmoor, have been told they cannot become foundation trusts because Ms Hewitt does not want to relinquish control of the hospitals.
Nottinghamshire Healthcare trust acting chief executive Mike Harris called the decision 'disappointing'.
He said NHS chief executive David Nicholson had written to the trust explaining that it may be able to exercise some benefits of foundation trust status, but it gave no details of what they may be.
Senior managers at the three trusts are to hold talks with the Department of Health on the future of the trusts and the hospitals.
West London Mental Health trust chief executive Simon Crawford said his trust was keen on exploring how it could enjoy some foundation trust benefits, even if it could not achieve full foundation status.
'We remain committed to the principle of a member-led organisation and will be looking at how this might be practically achieved,' he said.
Mersey Care trust director of organisational development Kim Crowe said: 'While preparing to apply for foundation status we have done excellent work to develop and improve our services and efficiency.'
A DoH spokesperson said: 'There are unique issues relating to the position of high-secure services. The DoH is actively looking at the full range of options for the three mental health trusts that host high-secure services.'