Local health groups in Wales will be allowed to develop at a 'comfortable' pace, Welsh health secretary Jane Hutt told a conference marking their first year of operation.

But she warned she wanted 'evidence that they are moving forward' and expected health authorities to take a 'proactive approach' to development.

Ms Hutt also used the conference to invite proposals on how to spend£600,000 set aside to develop the 22 groups next year.

'We want LHGs to move forward but it should be at a pace and in areas in which each group individually feels comfortable, 'Ms Hutt told the conference in Llandrindod Wells.

'We have never spoken of levels or set specific targets for development and I do not propose to do so now. '

The Welsh approach, which contrasts with faster and more structured change for primary care groups and primary care trusts in England, was welcomed by managers. Richard Thomas, director of the NHS Confederation in Wales, said flexibility was essential because circumstances varied across Wales. He said the development of LHGs was 'a step forward from fundholding for developing primary care on a managerial and clinical basis in a fairer and more equitable way'.

Health Quality Service deputy chief executive Gordon Mitchell said: 'In our experience, organisations that are clear about their purpose and focus attention on developing the organisation are more likely to succeed. '

Ms Hutt said the period since the creation of LHGs, which technically operate as committees of HAs, had been 'a period of great change', and the 'great success' of LHGs had been the way different professions had worked together.

One - Swansea LHG - is chaired by a social services director, Huw Gardner.

Ms Hutt said this was 'a sign that traditional barriers are beginning to crumble. '