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PCT numbers will be slashed to a third of their current level in a wholesale restructure of the NHS next year.

Submissions from strategic health authorities to the Department of Health reveal proposals to cut the number of PCTs from 302 to around 120. The number of SHAs would be cut from 28 to 11.

The plans, which are intended to save £250 million, will return the NHS to a similar structure to before Labour came to power when there were 120 district health authorities.

NHS chief executive Sir Nigel Crisp and an external panel will assess the proposals before they are put out to public consult-ation in each area in December.

Criteria will include reducing health inequalities, improving GP engagement and co-ordination with social services.

But GPs said their views on restructuring had been ignored and raised concerns over the future of clinical engagement.

Steve Mercer, chief executive of Avon LMC, criticised the consultation process.

A public consultation after the department had 'endorsed' SHA plans would have little impact, he said. He added that the move would not end the problem of PCT deficits.

He said: 'Our deficit dates from when we had one Avon health authority and was not solved by PCTs, so putting it back gives us no confidence.'

London's five SHAs have yet to recommend how to deal with their 31 PCTs. They want to consult on two options ­ retaining 30 PCTs or having far fewer crossing borough boundaries.

The health select committee will start an investigation into the impact of the restructuring next month.

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