A new special health authority is planned for the end of 2002 to run the NHS Shared Services Initiative, it was announced today.

The initiative, which was launched in October 1999, is responsible for large scale projects which use advanced technology to provide shared, non-core services across the NHS. The aim is to run functions such as finance from a small number of centres across the country, rather than have a separate department in each trust or strategic health authority.

Pilot sites have been set up in South Leeds and Bristol to work out how financial services can be managed on a shared basis, and a large project to develop an integrated human resource and payroll system started its pilot phase in Birmingham in January.

A national tender for a finance and e-commerce system is expected to go to OJEC in the coming months.

The move towards special authority status will be seen as a clear signal of approval from the Department of Health. It is also a further sign that the department intends to go for more central procurements of technology when they offer opportunities to improve the quality of information, reduce costs and make good use of scarce expertise.

Chief executive/programme director of the Shared Services Task Force, Philip Hewitson said, "Permission to explore special health authority status is not only a recognition of the work, and the quality of the work, we have undertaken over the last 12 months, but it is also a very positive demonstration of the extent to which this work has now become part of mainstream NHS policy."