The Department of Health is to roll out a £60m scheme to give NHS staff 'protected time' to plan their part in the modernisation agenda.

The DoH said the 'service modernisation sessions' would take place 'once or twice a month' and give staff the opportunity to tackle the issues they want to.

The time allotted to the programme might be about half a day or one day a month, the DoH said.

The drive will be kickstarted by the creation of 20 pilot areas to spearhead the scheme, by testing one particular model of working.

The DoH said this three-stage process would mean that clinical teams met 'once every couple of weeks' to discuss issues with senior managers, agree an implementation plan and, in a third meeting, assess the results and select a new topic for change.

A DoH spokesman said: 'We expect all organisations to be doing this, but the 20 pilot sites are being asked to work to one particular model.'

Issues to be examined might include clinical governance, access, and implementation of key strands of government policy such as national service frameworks.

The 20 pilot sites are due to be up and running by April.

The investment -£20m a year across the service for three years - aims to fund cover arrangements for the day-to-day running of services while future changes are planned.

In Doncaster, a scheme set up in November 1998 under the name TARGET (time for audit, review, guidance, education and training) has expanded to involve 80 per cent of all primary care practices.

Dr Martyn Coleman, one of the GPs from Kingthorne group practice, said the scheme - which began by involving just GPs and now involves staff from all levels of primary care - said: 'There is a real feeling of goodwill about the fact that It is a change to give a local feel to national policies.'