Primary care groups and trusts were invited this week to bid for a share of the £30m pot to set up walk-in health centres - and given just five weeks to set out their plans.

An NHS Executive circular calling for proposals by 30 June says there will be 20 pilots, and while most applications are expected to come from PCGs, GP practices, GP co-operatives and trusts can also apply. Some interested PCGs have already been sent advance copies of the circular because of the tight deadline.

Although£30m is available for the pilots, the government expects 20 per cent of the running costs to be met locally, and the circular sets out tight criteria for the new pilot sites.

They must offer a walk-in service from 7am to 9.30 pm on weekdays and be open weekends, have effective systems to predict demand and an appropriate skill mix, provide lifestyle advice, and have links to patients' 'home' GP.

The initiative was launched last month by prime minister Tony Blair

But NHS PCG Alliance chief officer Michael Sobanja raised doubts about the walk-in idea: 'Are we trying to develop mainstream services, or ones which reflect local wants as opposed to local needs?' he asked.

'The policy is more a ministry of public relations, when what we would like to see is a ministry of public health.'