Primary care leaders have given a lukewarm response to governmentbacked targets for rapid access to GPs.

The national primary care development team, launched last week, is urging primary care groups and trusts to sign up to the project, which aims to improve patient access, cut deaths and tackle waiting times. One target is that 90 per cent of patients should be able to access 'their primary healthcare professional the next working day, or the same day if it is urgent'.

NHS Primary Care Group Alliance chair Dr Michael Dixon said the two-day targets were 'a bit stern', given that they would include non-urgent cases.

'If someone rings up wanting to have their blood pressure checked, or some advice about going abroad and GPs have to see them the next day - well, that is a bit harsh.'

The team was launched last week by health minister John Denham, who said the government wanted to see a 'step change' in primary care.

Glossop GP John Oldham, who was one of the leading proponents of fundholding, has been seconded to head the Manchester-based group.

It intends to work with 30 to 40 PCGs and PCTs.

Another 'ambitious' target is to reduce deaths of patients with proven heart disease by 50 per cent in five years.

Dr Dixon welcomed the project itself, which he described as 'far better than the previous emphasis on beacons - which hasn't really worked since no-one goes to visit them. People are getting fed up with 'excellence'.'

But Dr Rhidian Morris, chair of the National Association of Primary Care, said the targets were 'perfectly reasonable', and said he found it 'quite disturbing when I hear of people having to wait seven days or more to see a GP.'

The launch of the project came as the Audit Commission published findings suggesting that the progress of PCGs was being blocked by restricted funds, time pressures and 'conflicts between local initiatives and central targets'.

It found that health authority funding for PCG management costs ranged from£1.54 per patient to£5.57.

It also suggested there was 'significant scope for cost savings' by the use of cheaper prescription drugs, a view which came under attack from NHS Confederation policy manager Jane Austin.

Ms Austin said the paper had dealt with the issue 'in a rather clumsy way by focusing too much on cheaper prescribing. . .

(rather than) cost-effective prescribing' and by underplaying the 'damaging effects of the recent dramatic rise in the cost of generic drugs'.

The PCG Agenda: early progress of primary care groups in 'the new NHS.

www.audit-commission.gov.uk