Well, we did it. Sussex Partnership foundation trust - a teaching trust of the Brighton and Sussex Medical School - was born on 1 August 2008.

Given that we formed from a three-way merger on 1 April 2006, this was impressive. People worked incredibly hard, and we feel hugely proud of our achievement. We are still on cloud nine as I write this in early August - we are giving ourselves one month to preen, catch our collective breath and take some holidays, and then it's all systems go from 1 September.

There are now 105 foundation trusts, of which 31 are mental health trusts. Over half the mental health trusts in the country have now achieved foundation status, which is pretty good going given that the opportunity wasn't open to us until two years after the first FTs were authorised in April 2004.

I was a junior manager back in the days when the first NHS trusts were being approved, but people say the process to get approval became easier with each wave (remember those?). Apparently, the bar got lower each year, so that the last ones could just hop over it, unimpeded by the weighty application process that the first and second wave trusts had to negotiate.

The reverse is true of the Monitor application process, and that is almost certainly because the regulator has been separated from the body responsible for delivery of the policy. It is also because the performance standards and targets we have to achieve these days are increasing year on year - this year's good will be next year's fair. Clearly, this is tough for those organisations struggling to get to first base.

Leaner, sharper

For what it's worth, the Monitor assessment process is the best thing that we have ever done and it has changed us beyond recognition. We are leaner, sharper and much, much more focused on service delivery to our customers (those using services, their families AND commissioners). We know where we are going, and it's a good feeling.

For anyone who has still to go through the process, here are my top 10 tips for a successful application:

  • Approach applying to be an FT like any large-scale project - be prepared.

  • See the development of the integrated business plan as your number one priority while you are writing it, and then it will become the most useful thing you have ever written. If you don't, it won't.

  • Resource the project properly - whatever anyone tells you, it will cost more in the end to do the job badly than to do it well.

  • Do not stint on board development, including in the latter stages of preparation for the "board to board" with Monitor. This means non-executives and executives.

  • Don't answer any questions at any stage until you have worked out what the next question might be and have planned how you will answer that one as well.

  • Prepare for the board to board as you would for the most important interview of your life. The harder you work, the luckier you will get. And don't peak too early.

  • Get all the procedural issues resolved before you get to the Monitor phase - revision of standing orders, changes to make-up and membership of board and committees, legality of your proposed constitution, etc.

  • Take membership very, very seriously - it's not a numbers game and you need both quality and quantity. This is where good staff engagement reaps dividends.

  • Treat the whole thing as an organisational development project and it will be one.

  • Remember that the harder the fight, the sweeter the prize.

Good luck.