GPs have voted to disband a west London primary care group in the first case of its kind.

Western Ealing PCG covered a population of about 53,000 - just over half the 100,000 population originally recommended by ministers - and much smaller than many PCGs. The board has decided that 'GPs and their patients would benefit from being part of larger PCGs' and admitted that Western Ealing's size was inconsistent with moves towards primary care trust status.

Patients and practices have been transferred to three other Ealing PCGs. All three now cover more than 100,000 people each.

Western Ealing PCG chair Tim Hughes said patients 'should be assured that their needs will be well served by being part of a bigger PCG'.

A spokesperson for Ealing, Hammersmith and Hounslow health authority denied that the PCG's size had made it unviable. 'If the PCG wasn't viable it wouldn't have been set up, ' she said.

HA director of primary care John Newbury-Helps said when PCGs were set up, 'their priorities were for joint working between practices and primary care development'.

'This kind of work was going to be best achieved by smaller PCGs, and as their work progressed and more responsibility was taken on, mergers were anticipated.'

NHS Confederation policy manager Jane Austin said when PCGs had started, the 'key issue' for HAs was getting all the GPs on board. It was important to put the decision to disband now 'in the context of organisations' moves towards PCTs', she said.

NHS Alliance chief officer Michael Sobanja said PCGs serving 'populations under 75,000' would be 'under some difficulty' as time went on.

Reasons 'why PCGs and PCTs might want to be bigger' included increased leverage on hospital providers and keeping management costs down.