NHS organisations are being strongly encouraged to bid for funding from an EU pot worth £4.4bn to be spent in the UK over the next seven years.
Money from the European structural and investment fund is available to organisations across the UK public sector to fund business, workforce and innovation projects.
The NHS Confederation wants the health sector to bid for the funds, and has said it is important the NHS looks at “complementary” sources of funding.
Money from the fund pot, which has been divided into smaller regional funds by the government, must be matched by public or private funding from within the UK, bringing the total potential fund to £8.8bn.
Any funding that remains unallocated by 2021 will be returned to Brussels.
Michael Wood, senior policy manager at the NHS European Office, an arm of the NHS Confederation, said: “Given the current financial context it’s important the NHS understands its role in the local economy and that the health service looks at complementary funding streams.
“As the NHS looks at ways of improving population health through economic regeneration, this funding is critical.”
The NHS had been slow to take advantage of previous rounds of ESIF funding, he added.
Money from the previous fund, run between 2007 and 2013 and worth £5.3bn, has been invested in other public projects including the regeneration of the Albert Dock in Liverpool.
Mr Wood said there has been initial interest in the new fund from some NHS organisations.
“I have had enquiries from clinical commissioning groups looking to use this funding to redevelop their primary care workforce.”
He added: “I’ve also heard from community providers asking about the funding to help integration work with councils, and acute providers interested in using it to develop new devices for self-care.”
The government has divided up the funding into sets of regional “calls” - specific tranches of money to be spent in particular regions.
Bodies can bid for funding from a call, which in many cases can be used in a relatively broad way, as long as the projects comply with research and innovation objectives.
Mr Wood said: “I’m urging NHS bodies to take advantage of this funding but other sectors are also urging the NHS to get involved in bidding for the funds because health is now being seen as a key sector and a key part of the economy.
“The third sector and the academic sector, in terms of the innovation agenda, are also pushing the health sector to bid for this money.”