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A Government pilot programme to improve access to GP services in under-doctored areas marks the start of a private sector invasion of primary care.

The Department of Health this week announced a tendering process for six APMS contracts that will provide new GP surgeries, additional GPs, walk-in centres and nurse-led clinics.

Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt said 'entrepreneurial GPs' would be able to bid to provide the new services, worth £5 million.

But privately a source close to ministers told Pulse they did not expect GPs to be able to 'come up with these new services'.

The source said ministers 'expected the independent sector will fill the void' and that the Government's strategy was to introduce 'contestability' into primary care.

The comments support GPs' belief that they will not be operating on a level playing field if they try to compete against private firms.

Policy analyst and former NHS trust chair Roy Lilley said the tendering process was 'unprecedented'.

He said: 'This is going to have a huge impact on primary care. The Government has said it doesn't matter where health care comes from.'

Dr Mark Hunt, a Department of Health senior policy adviser and a GP in Frome, Somerset, said the Government intended there to be a level playing field but it was 'likely' new providers would be used.

He said: 'Traditional models of practice haven't been able to be sustained in these areas.'

PCTs in London, Essex, Liverpool, Plymouth, Lancashire and Bradford will get a share of £3.8 million from the Government to kick-start the tendering process.

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