Action to change the structure of health and personal social services could be taken within days of the setting up of the proposed new Northern Ireland assembly, health minister Tony Worthington said last week.

Launching the province's consultation document on the future of health and social care, Mr Worthington said it offers the chance of a 'flying start' and laid the groundwork for decisions which would be taken by the new assembly.

'If there is consensus on what changes are needed, action could be taken in the first days of the assembly.'

The consultation document proposes similar changes to the recent England, Scotland and Wales white papers.

It will abolish the internal market, with GP fundholding ending in 2000, a year later than the rest of the UK.

The document offers two models for reorganising health and social services.

The consultation period ends on 31 August.

The British Medical Association Northern Ireland Council was pleased that responses to the document would be considered before it was prepared for white paper status. But chair Dr Raymund Shearer warned that an extension to the consultation period might be needed to provide the comprehensive response the document deserved.

The NHS Confederation said it would test the document against the key themes of quality and a focus on patients and clients. 'These arrangements must build on our strengths as an integrated service dedicated to improving the health and social well-being of the entire population, ' said chief executive Stephen Thornton.