Berkshire West is the latest primary care trust to agree a contract with a private provider for GP services.

Atos Healthcare, a division of Atos Origin, is to supply all services at a new health centre in Shinfield.

And in line with Prime Minster Gordon Brown's pledge to make access a priority, the PCT's contract ensures that patients will be able to see a GP on two evenings a week and on Saturday mornings.

Chief Executive of Berkshire West PCT, Charles Waddicor, said it was access issues which drove the PCT to enter the tendering process and encourage more providers.

The tenders were split between the independent sector and local GPs in the final stages but Mr Waddicor said Atos was chosen because of the whole 'package it offered' and 'its flexibilty'.

He said: 'I think [junior health minister] Lord Darzi is absolutely right about the issue of access.

'We have spent a long time talking to patients and the public, and time and time again they were very happy with GPs but wanted to see them at a time that suits.'

He hoped that the extended opening hours at Shinfeild would encourage other GP practices in the area to follow suit as he believes 'people will move and shop around in the way they do with banks'.

He confirmed that if the opportunity arose again the PCT would do manage the process in the same way.

Chair of the GPs' Committee, Lawrence Buckman, said he was not surprised by the move and expects it to happen more frequently.

He said: 'I hope the people of Shinfield get a good service. All PCTs have been told to get a certain percentage of private providers. It doesn't matter if it’s a good idea or not its government policy. They would have got the call form the SHA to get on with it.'

The Shinfield Health Centre will open in late March 2008 and Atos Healthcare will offer GP services, a community nursing service, a phlebotomy service, a practice nurse as well as administrative staff a receptionist. A commercial pharmacy will also be on site. The PCT is also considering commissioning ultra sound and urology services from Atos Healthcare.

Atos Healthcare's director of NHS services, Nigel Beverley, said the move was a major step forward for the company.

'Our strategy is to develop broad based primary care services - GP services, out of hours services and walk in centres - across the country and this has given us a really good start,' he said

This is the company's first attempt at providing GP service but it is also involved in tranche one and two of the Department of Health's fairness in primary care procurement program which is set to award contacts, to provide GP services in under-doctored areas, in the next few months.[checking]

Mr Beverley assured that patients were not affected and had nothing to worry about in light of a DoH report obtained by HSJ under the Freedom of Information Act into their diagnostic deal with the NHS.

Mr Waddicor added that he was not concerned about the report.

A DoH spokesperson said: 'We are committed to working with all capable providers to deliver high quality, value for money, services to NHS patients.

'Alternative Provider Medical Services allows PCTs to contract with commercial, voluntary and mutual providers, and with current practices, to excellent patient centred primary care services.

'As set out in Lord Darzi's report we are exploring how to involve further the fullest possible range of service providers in developing innovative solutions to tackling inequalities, improving patient access and developing more responsive services and increasing patient choice.'