The government has identified 20 trusts whose “clinical and financial stability is at risk” because of “cash-flow shortages” and legacy debt.

In a statement, health secretary Andrew Lansley said the trusts in question had told the Department of Health they required “help to become sustainable for the long term”.

A full announcement on how the government will deal with problem trusts is expected later this year. However, it is understood that the DH could offer bailouts for trusts struggling to break even, and it wants to identify new sources of activity for trusts facing high private finance initiative repayments.

Only one organisation on the list, the £90m-turnover Weston Area Health Trust in Somerset, has not already announced plans for either a merger or large scale reconfiguration.

The DH announcement came two days before the publication of a report by the National Audit Office into the health of trusts in the foundation trust pipeline, of which 71 are acutes.

Four of the 20 “at risk” trusts were also on the separate DH list of 22 whose private finance initiative schemes had been identified as a potential bar to reaching foundation trust status.

Consultants at McKinsey have assessed which of these trusts need support to achieve foundation status but their findings have not been made public.

Trusts assessed by McKinsey but left off the new DH list include Barts and the London, which has asked for a £22m annual PFI bailout, and Portsmouth Hospitals, where PFI repayments account for 10 per cent of its turnover.

The list of 20 trusts comprises mainly hospital trusts but includes one mental health trust, one ambulance trust and a learning disability organisation.

Mr Lansley said: “Labour left some parts of the NHS with a dismal legacy of PFI bills and hidden bailouts, and made them rely on unworkable plans for the future. They swept these problems under the carpet for a decade.

“The problems facing some parts of the NHS which we were left with now have to be sorted out. Tough solutions may be required for these problems, but we will help the NHS overcome them.”

The 20 trusts

Newham University Hospital NHS Trust
Oxfordshire Learning Disability NHS Trust
Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust
Whipps Cross University Hospital NHS Trust
North Cumbria University Hospital Trust
North Middlesex University Hospital NHS Trust
Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust
Ealing Hospital NHS Trust
Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust
Hinchingbrooke Hospital NHS Trust
Trafford Healthcare NHS Trust
North West London Hospitals NHS Trust
Scarborough and North East Yorkshire NHS Trust
Weston Area Health NHS Trust
Winchester and Eastleigh Healthcare NHS Trust
Great Western Ambulance Service NHS Trust
George Eliot Hospital NHS Trust
Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust
Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre NHS Trust
Suffolk Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust