Purpose – The aim of this paper is to examine the introduction of innovation as part of a management development programme at a primary care organisation, a legal form known as a Primary Care Trust (PCT), in the UK. Design/methodology/approach – The paper draws on experience of managing a successful management development programme for a PCT. The report of the case study analyses the key events that took place between 2008 and 2010, from direct observation, surveys, discussion and documentary evidence. Findings – The Northern PCT has partnerships with a number of educational providers to deliver their leadership and management development programmes. A close working relationship had developed and the programme is bespoke – hence it is current and of practical use to the UK's National Health Service (NHS). In addition, there are regular meetings, with module leaders gaining a firsthand understanding of the organisation's needs and aspirations. This has resulted in a very focused and personalised offering and a genuine involvement in the programme and individuals concerned. Research limitations/implications – The research was conducted among a relatively small sample, and there is a lack of previous literature evidence to make significant comparisons. Practical implications – The paper identifies key implications for practitioners and educators in this area. Originality/value – This paper is one of few to investigate innovation and improvement in the NHS, and is unique in that it uses the lenses of a management development programme to explore this important, and under‐researched, topic.