The 38 primary care trusts being given government money to tackle long-standing GP shortages will be expected to share the extra resources with their neighbours.

Speaking to HSJ at a consultation event in Nottingham as part of his NHS review, junior health minister Lord Darzi said PCTs needed to be "grown-up and mature" about improving GP access.

Asked whether PCTs should share the additional resources to prevent those needy PCTs adjacent to the most under-doctored areas being disadvantaged, the minister was unequivocal.

"Yes. PCTs should work together to make [better GP access] happen," he said. "The whole purpose of this review is to break boundaries: health and social care, primary and secondary care."

One-hundred new GP practices will be set up over the next three years in the areas with the worst 25 per cent of provision, using a£250m government fund.

Tim Rideout, chief executive of Leicester City PCT, one of the designated PCTs, said that he was against sharing the allocated money with nearby areas.

"This initiative recognises that we're under-doctored compared to our neighbours. We're not going to hand over funds to other areas," he protested.

But he intended to work with neighbouring PCTs to ensure needy patients were able to access the new practices, he added.

The consultation event last Thursday was replicated around the country, with NHS staff and members of the public discussing the future of the health service.

Participants in all regions of the UK voted interactively on a number of issues and listened to Lord Darzi via a live link-up.

When asked whether they had noticed any difference in GP opening hours since the interim report was published in October, two thirds of the Nottingham participants said no.

Lord Darzi signalled a clear intention to press ahead with extended hours, saying: "We need to move away from the days of providing care nine to five.

"People want to have access to care outside normal working hours." He did not want to "second-guess" the work of the clinical pathway groups, which have been set up by each strategic health authority to assess regional health priorities, he said.

However, he stressed that GP access needed to "tally" with government policies such as the move to more care being provided in the community.

His comments are sure to fuel doctors' fears that extended hours will feature in Lord Darzi's final report, due to be published in June, whatever the outcome of public consultations.

Regional leads have told HSJ that extending GP hours is not a major priority for patients.

Negotiations between NHS Employers and the British Medical Association on the general medical services contract remain deadlocked, but the government will impose extended hours unless an agreement is reached before 1 April.

See this week's news analysis for more.