Strategic health authorities have signed a five year commitment to invest in services offered by the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement.

The move comes as SHAs are being handed a £30m devolved fund, currently handled by the Department of Health, to spend on improvement projects such as the productive ward programme.

A third of the money is aimed at NHS-wide products, which SHAs have agreed to fund until 2014.

From 2010-11, they can choose how to spend the rest of the fund. This means money currently being spent on the NHS Institute could go to its competitors.

NHS Institute chief executive Bernard Crump said: “We’re not naïve - we know everybody’s going to be facing difficult resourcing decisions. But we’re confident that the investment in development programmes by SHAs, and the level of success of things like the productive ward, will stand us in good stead.”

Senior leaders would continue to meet regularly to ensure the new regional approach did not “dilute” the impact of programmes, he said.

Free to staff

It is still unclear exactly how much the institute will get but SHAs will ensure that services which are free to all NHS staff remain so for the next five years. This includes access to the NHS Institute’s website and more than 200 publications and 300 improvement tools.

For 2009-10, the agreement will also cover direct support for SHAs via initiatives such as the academy for large scale change. The selection of programmes for commissioners and providers has been scaled down and now covers areas such as safer care and delivering quality.

Further resources will be on offer in the new financial year after discussions with SHAs. These include two initiatives: delivering projects such as the productive community services programmes, and product development for new programmes.

South Central SHA chief executive Jim Easton said: “National and regional improvement capability is going to be key [as] we face the twin challenges of having service quality and improving productivity. I’m pleased we’ve reached a conclusion with the overall funding arrangements for the NHS Institute.”