There will be no brakes on the momentum towards creating a first wave of primary care trusts by April 2000, despite GP warnings that the timetable is too tight, health minister Alan Milburn told MPs last week.

But Mr Milburn softened his message by adding that there were no targets for creating primary care trusts and the drive to develop primary care groups would come 'from the bottom up'.

The British Medical Association told the health select committee last week that although many GPs supported the reforms, there were worries about the 'unrealistic' pace of change, and the lack of central guidance and resources.

Asked whether the timetable was realistic, Mr Milburn told the committee: 'I think it's right'.

'Nobody underestimates the difficulties associated with this, but we are extremely clear about where we are going to get to,' he said. 'I want to maintain the momentum of PCGs.

'There are some in the service who believe there's going to be a headlong rush into primary care trust status.

'We do not have targets in mind for primary care trusts.'

Mr Milburn sought to allay community trust fears that they will be taken over by primary care trusts.

And pressed by Tory MP David Amess, he denied that GPs were being corralled into PCGs.

'This is not about coercion, it's not about centralisation, it's about devolving more power to frontline NHS staff than they have ever had before,' he insisted.

John Chisholm, chair of the BMA's GP committee, earlier told MPs that there were 'considerable anxieties' among GPs about how PCGs were being implemented.

'Everybody is finding the pace of change quite threatening.There's a political imperative to implement the reforms on 1 April. In reality the pace of change is extremely demanding,' he said.

Dr Chisholm also said GPs had been 'frustrated' by the 'piecemeal' and late delivery of central guidance that left them working in a 'vacuum', without a central steer from government.

Asked about the pace of change, Dr Chisholm said: 'The timetable is going to plan. But it's unrealistic.'

He warned that the extra workload created by the proposed changes was onerous, and there was inadequate funding available.

Ensuring that there was proper locum cover for GPs who were carrying out board responsibilities would require the equivalent of 'several hundred' more GPs, Dr Chisholm said.