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GPs have accused a health authority of 'railroading' primary care groups into a 'headlong rush towards primary care trust status'.

Stockport local medical committee chair Dr Jacqueline Chang is to write to all 164 GPs in the town, urging them to campaign against proposals to merge all three primary care groups into one PCT by 2001. The PCGs are due to go live next week.

Dr Chang accused Stockport HA of wanting 'a brownie point' for delivering a key part of the government's NHS reforms, an independent trust to commission and provide healthcare.

'There is huge pressure on HAs to railroad PCGs into trust status,' she said. 'The decision was made in January before PCGs were up and running.'

HA chief executive Peter Milnes said he planned to 'seek assent for a formal local consultation' on the plans for a single trust from health secretary Frank Dobson.

Mr Milnes said 'a single PCT for Stockport would be better than three PCGs or PCTs'.

'HAs, primary and secondary care all need to change if we are going to make sense of the government's agenda,' he said.

The single PCT strategy was put forward as part of a wider agenda for reorganisation in Cheshire and Manchester.

It includes proposals to merge Stockport Acute Services trust and Stockport Healthcare trust, both based at Stepping Hill Hospital, and long-term plans to merge HAs in the Manchester area.

Mr Milnes said he had put forward an expression of interest in PCT status in January 'on a proxy basis' on behalf of the three PCGs 'because we didn't have people in place at the time'.

Mr Milnes blamed the dispute with GPs on 'a misunderstanding' of his intentions, which were for 'an entirely inclusive' process.

HA public health director Dr Stephen Watkins said the row was 'a storm in a teacup' as the proposals would 'evolve' over the next two to three years: 'We see PCGs as transitional organisations which have a remit of putting in place a PCT with a strong, devolved structure.'

Dr Nicholas Devine, joint chair of Stockport West PCG, said: 'We are trying to keep trust status on the back burner while we get on with the job of establishing ourselves.'

LMC member Dr Ranjit Gill, who is also a board member of Stockport West PCG, said: 'Our concern is that the aim of a trust is to control and take away the freedom of GPs to care for their patients in the way they see fit'.

But he said his own PCG was 'happy to go ahead with a consultation exercise as long as it is genuine, not a superficial pretence'.