THREE hospitals in the North-East and North Yorkshire must wait until next year to find out if they will win limited independence from Whitehall control.

The NHS trusts in Gateshead, South Tyneside and Harrogate, were due to hear on November 1 whether their applications for foundation status had been successful.

But that date has now been put back until New Year's Day, because of the introduction of a complex new payment by results system for all NHS hospitals.

A spokesman for the independent regulator of foundation trusts said: "This will allow trusts to develop a more detailed financial plan before we make a decision."

Gateshead, South Tyneside and Harrogate, are among ten trusts in England whose applications were due to be decided on November 1.

A further ten will be decided next April - delayed from February. One is Newcastle Hospitals, which includes the Royal Victoria Infirmary, the Freeman Hospital and Newcastle General Hospital.

There are 20 foundation trusts, including City Hospitals Sunderland. North Tees and Hartlepool trust missed its chance in April, after failing to meet a business plan deadline.

Foundation trusts can retain surpluses and borrow to invest in improvements, answerable to an elected board of members rather than directly to the Department of Health.

But their powers were watered down after protests by Labour backbenchers over fears that the boards could be taken over by extremists, including groups opposing certain types of research.