Background: There is a growing recognition of the importance of introducing new ways of working into the UK's National Health Service (NHS) and other health systems, in order to ensure that patient care is provided as effectively and efficiently as possible. Researchers have examined the challenges of introducing new ways of working--'organisational innovations'--into complex organisations such as the NHS, and this has given rise to a much better understanding of how this takes place--and why seemingly good ideas do not always result in changes in practice. However, there has been less research on the medium- and longer-term outcomes for organisational innovations and on the question of how new ways of working, introduced by frontline clinicians and managers, are sustained and become established in day-to-day practice. Clearly, this question of sustainability is crucial if the gains in patient care that derive from organisational innovations are to be maintained, rather than lost to what the NHS Institute has called the 'improvement-evaporation effect'.Methods: The study will involve research in four case-study sites around England, each of which was successful in sustaining its new model of service provision beyond an initial period of pilot funding for new genetics services provided by the Department of Health. Building on findings relating to the introduction and sustainability of these services already gained from an earlier study, the research will use qualitative methods--in-depth interviews, observation of key meetings, and analysis of relevant documents--to understand the longer-term challenges involved in each case and how these were surmounted. The research will provide lessons for those seeking to sustain their own organisational innovations in wide-ranging clinical areas and for those designing the systems and organisations that make up the NHS, to make them more receptive contexts for the sustainment of innovation.Discussion: Through comparison and contrast across four sites, each involving different organisational innovations, different forms of leadership, and different organisational contexts to contend with, the findings of the study will have wide relevance. The research will produce outputs that are useful for managers and clinicians responsible for organisational innovation, policy makers and senior managers, and academics.