NHS European Office

European Structural and Investment Funds


European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) offer opportunities to NHS organisations to access EU funding in a range of areas.

The funds support a wide range of economic and social development projects – particularly around research, development and commercialisation, skills and employment and social inclusion. The two parts of ESIF most relevant to the NHS are the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the European Social Fund (ESF).

The UK government launched the new round of European Structural Funding for the period 2014-2020 on 21 March, and the first calls can be found here. The calls will be published over a period of time so it is worth revisiting this webpage. 

England has received a set allocation of over €6bn to be spent over the seven years, which will be administered nationally. As the NHS embeds its role at the heart of its local community’s economy through greater devolved partnership working, this funding becomes more relevant for the service.

Download the NHS European Office briefing to find out more about these funds and read our blog on how the NHS, through engaging with local economic leadership, can help generate local employment and economic growth. You can also listen to Michael Wood from the NHS European Office talking to Universities UK about the NHS, universities and ESIF.

Government issues further clarity on ESIF projects

Following his announcement in August 2016, which guaranteed funds for projects signed up until the Autumn Statement, the Chancellor has now confirmed that the government will guarantee EU funding for structural and investment fund projects signed after the Autumn Statement and which continue after the UK has left the EU.

Funding for projects will be honoured by the government, if they meet the following conditions:

  • they are good value for money
  • they are in line with domestic strategic priorities
Each government department will take responsibility for the allocation of money to projects in line with these conditions and the wider rules on public spending. These conditions will be applied in such a way that the current pipeline of committed projects is not disrupted.

Where the devolved administrations sign up to structural and investment fund projects under their current EU budget allocation prior to Brexit, the government will also ensure they are funded to meet these commitments.

Operating model

The new operating model includes, as its core element, an “EU Growth Programme”, where the objectives of the European Regional Development Fund and European Social Fund overlap. This combined programme will cover innovation, research and development, SME competitiveness, skills, low carbon development, and employment, as top priorities.

Details of how the UK intends to spend the EU Structural funds can be found in the "Partnership Agreement" signed between the UK and the European Commission on 29 October 2014. The UK government is also in the process of agreeing separate Operational Programmes for ERDF and ESF with the European Commission. Read the draft Operational Programmes for ERDF and ESF.

How the funds will be accessed

The EU funding is allocated directly from the European Commission to the UK. The government has changed the way the new ESIF funding is administered, asking the 39 Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) to work with local public and private partners to propose an investment strategy for their area. The LEP areas have received varying allocations of England’s ESIF funding, with more deprived areas receiving more money. NHS organisations interested in exploring further opportunities available under the European regional funds should contact their local LEP(s) and explore their local ESIF strategies.

The NHS European Office has produced notes comparing the LEP boundaries to those of AHSNs and LETBs.

What the funds can support

Importantly for the NHS, there is a broad range of initiatives that can be supported by these EU funds across the particular areas of research, development and innovation; skills and employment; and social inclusion. 

Of particular relevance to AHSNs and other highly innovative parts of the NHS such as specialist and acute providers, this funding places a new and significant focus on the commercialisation of research and innovation. Further to this, many LEPs have in their local ESIF funding strategies specifically outlined planned activities to drive commercialisation in the health sector, including match-funding the technological and social development of innovative health and care related products, systems and services.

Another key priority area of ESIF is tackling gaps in general skill-sets and employability. LETBs and NHS organisations, as large local employers, are encouraged to look at how this funding can play a key role in driving initiatives that contribute to these important areas. Indeed the vast majority of ESIF spending strategies drawn up by LEPs have identified the NHS as one of their key local employers and the publication of Talent for Care is an obvious and positive starting point for joint NHS-LEP ESIF working.

ESIF can be used to support the NHS to engage more in activities around health and well-being that promote social inclusion within communities, in particular through the reduction of poverty and health inequalities. CCGs, Health and Wellbeing Boards and mental health and community providers are particularly well placed to engage with LEPs in this area, in collaboration with colleagues in local government and the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector. Similarly, this funding should be of interest to colleagues working in public health.

For the full list of generic activities covered by this funding, we recommend you read the initial guidance for Local Enterprise Partnerships, issued by the government in April 2013.

Developing Partnerships

Relationships between the health sector and LEPs vary, though strategically they can be very important. NHS organisations, including regional bodies such as HWBs, AHSNs and LETBs, are recommended to establish links with their local LEP partners to help them understand the priorities and focus of the health sector and how collaboration can bring mutual benefit. If you would like to find out more about the LEPs in your region, visit www.lepnetwork.net.

LEPs have been encouraged to work with a host of local private and public partners. NHS organisations wishing to engage in this agenda should also be talking to their local authorities, further and higher education institutions and charities and the third sector. At a national level the NHS European Office is working with the range of national actors, including the LGA, Universities UK, Higher Education Funding Council for England, National Charities and Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) and the National LEP Network to link health with growth.

National Council for Voluntary Organisations

The NHS European Office has teamed up with the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) to highlight how EU structural funds can support closer working between the NHS and the VCSE sector to improve health and well-being. Read our blog and find out more about the on-going review of the role of the VCSE sector in improving health, wellbeing and care outcomes.   

AHSNs mentioned in UK Smart Specialisation Strategy

The UK government has published England’s draft Smart Specialisation Strategy which has now been submitted to the European Commission. The strategy is the document outlining England’s strategic priorities for investment and will help LEPs to identify and understand national drivers for innovation across several key sectors. The NHS European Office represented the NHS on the Smart Specialisation Leadership Group for innovation and we are pleased to see that Innovation in Health and Wealth has been profiled in the Strategy, with specific reference to the role of AHSNs. Download your copy of the strategy.  

More information

The government has published eligibility rules for the ERDF and ESF programmes

Presentations from AHSN and LEBT webinars can provide more information on how to access EU Structural Funds.

The UK government's website provides a useful summary of EU structural funds and lists the various associated publications and guides that LEPs have received.

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