Primary care trusts are attempting to spice up public health and recruitment initiatives by copying popular TV programmes.

Camden PCT is using ideas from Dragons' Den, where investors pick apart business proposals drawn up by members of the public, in a drive to eradicate health inequalities.

It is inviting members of the public to submit bids for proposals worth around£50,000 from its innovation fund. The trust said in a statement the best proposals will be asked to pitch their idea to a panel in the style of the BBC show.

North Lancashire PCT has drawn inspiration from Sir Alan Sugar for its own version of The Apprentice, in which 13 candidates "vie for the chance to become an NHS leader of the future".

PCT apprentices

The trust said it had got 90 applications from as far away as Cornwall and Hull. "Apprentices" are part-way through a two-month programme that includes assignments in areas such as leadership, problem solving and project management.

The "best of the best" will be invited to join the PCT permanently.

NHS Confederation deputy policy director Jo Webber backed PCTs' attempts to engage creatively with their populations. "Taking things people enjoy and making the complex world of health seem more accessible has the potential to deliver real results," she said.

But Katherine Murphy, director of communications at the Patients' Association, warned that trusts should not have to resort to "gimmicks" to find talent.

For more on leadership development, see Staff development: three steps to greatness