The Department of Health is calling on primary care trusts to put forward proposals for controversial personal budget pilots.
The DH has put the emphasis on encouraging PCTs to take an "innovative approach" to the budgets, which will see patients allocated money to exercise more choice over their own healthcare.
But the NHS Confederation has warned that while the budgets offer opportunities, they leave many questions unanswered - including whether commissioners will have to procure different services for personal budget holders and whether they conflict with current rules banning top-ups.
The pilot programme will run from the end of 2009 until 2012. The closing date for applications is 27 March 2009.
It follows the introduction of personal budgets for some social care service users.
Health minister Lord Darzi said the pilots marked the start of a "challenging yet exciting journey".
He said: "We want it to build on the great successes already achieved with individual budgets in social care and see PCTs take an innovative approach to making personal budgets work for healthcare."
The DH has published a document, Personal Budgets First Steps , which sets out how the pilots might work.