Published: 05/05/2005, Volume II5, No. 5954 Page 9

'Our work is based on a policy of having no surprises, ' says one foundation trust chief executive.

This is the approach most foundation trusts are keen to be seen to be taking, even if it may not be happening in practice. One thing's for sure, it is definitely the message they want to send to Monitor, the independent regulator.

And Monitor, for its part, is keen to promote a no-nonsense approach to its work. Last month it published a compliance framework for foundation trusts to ensure they stick to the terms of their authorisation. It contained tough new financial rules, which, if breached, could provoke Monitor's intervention via a section 23 notice.

'Everyone is basically trying to avoid another Bradford, ' admits another foundation chief.

'The message we are getting from Monitor is that if we keep them informed of any problems or potential pitfalls before they happen, we can get help to sort them out before they start mentioning section 23 notices.' Foundation trusts are being encouraged to see themselves as businesses. By the end of the month, all 31 will need to have submitted their annual plan for the next year to the regulator.

'There is no doubt that our planning for the new financial year is much more robust than if we were a non-foundation trust, ' admits another chief executive from a foundation in the North.

This stringent financial climate is pushing trusts to develop new and potentially stronger relationships with their local NHS.

'We have already signed off our service-level agreements with our PCTs rather than spending six months in protracted discussions with them, ' says another chief executive. 'We have developed a mature relationship with them that I would not have necessarily predicted a year ago.' One thing is for sure: foundation trust chief executives are definitely not taking a casual approach to regulation.

'I am under no illusions that if our performance slipped financially or otherwise there would be a lot of furious correspondence with Monitor, ' he adds.