As a PCG chief executive and soon-to-be ordained Church of England vicar, Dr Meg Gilley sees no conflict between rationing services and her religious beliefs.

'I am chief executive. There is only so much money in the pot and it has to be allocated with integrity with the best interests of the community that you serve,' she says.

Dr Gilley, who has a PhD in social policy, is chief executive of Darlington PCG, and will be ordained in September 2000. She is married to a university lecturer and has two grown-up children, aged 19 and 21.

Until recently she was also chair of the Association of Ordinands and Candidates for Ministry - the trainee vicars' trade union. But does she get any deferential treatment from GPs as a woman of the cloth? 'No way,' she says.

Darlington PCG is advanced compared with many. It has been the centre of locality commissioning for five years and is coterminous with the local authority, which Dr Gilley describes as a 'major benefit'.

Problems of some GP board members taking on too much work have already resulted in one GP resignation from the board. 'The board member has already been replaced. I think people are just realising what a tremendous commitment PCGs are in terms of time.'

The PCG can always bend the ear of its local MP - Alan Milburn, the former health minister and PCG zealot, who is now chief secretary to the Treasury.

'Mr Milburn is always here every Friday. I often bump into him and he asks how the PCG is going.' So there is a chance of Mr Milburn pushing a more cash for PCGs line to the Treasury?

'I would believe that when it happened.'