GP fundholding will not be abolished in Northern Ireland until at least April 2002, after the Northern Ireland Assembly voted to accept an amendment to the Health and Personal Social Services Bill calling for a delay.

The abolition planned for 1 April this year was challenged by an amendment from the Assembly's health committee. This called for fundholding to continue for at least another year so that alternative primary care structures could be put in place. This amendment was accepted at this week's debate by 52 votes to 32.

A consultation exercise on the future of primary care is underway in the province. However, although the replacement of fundholding by alternative structures is widely supported, the imminent abolition had not been supported by GPs. The new proposal is for local health and social care groups to progressively receive budgets devolved from health and social services boards for commissioning services.