Some of the 30 new strategic health authorities are likely to begin operating from next April, with chief executives in place by the end of the year, it was revealed this week.

Speaking at an NHS Alliance conference in London, Cathy Doran, NHS head of primary care, said formal consultation on SHA boundaries is scheduled to start in September, and SHAs in some parts of England could start functioning just a few months later.

It is expected that all the new HAs will start work between April 2002 and April 2003. And although it is possible that shadow SHAs could exist in some areas, Ms Doran indicated that this would not happen widely.

NHS chief operating officer Neil McKay is working on SHA formation and will be publishing a paper for the service within the next two months.

The strategic function of the HAs will cover whole-system performance and networks, supporting and monitoring primary care trusts and NHS trusts, driving forward the modernisation agenda and 'brokering strategic solutions' where problems have been identified.

Ms Doran told the conference that 148 primary care groups have applied to adopt trust status by the beginning of next year.

This suggests there will be only nine PCGs left by next April which, she said, 'will feel rather lonely'.