Bringing down barriers faced by new GP providers wanting to enter the market in underdoctored areas could help cut health inequalities, the chief executive of NHS England has said.

In a letter sent to then Commons health committee chair Stephen Dorrell last month, Simon Stevens said he recognised the “longstanding problem with geographical inequalities in the availability of high quality NHS primary care”.

The letter was in response to Mr Dorrell’s query following his appearance in front of the committee in April.

He asked Mr Stevens to clarify his position on comments he made in a Financial Times article in 2010. In the piece he said the NHS could open up “underserved parts of the country to any willing provider”.

He added that introducing new providers could still help some areas, and that this idea drew on a system previously used by the Medical Practices Committee to identify underserved parts of England.

New practices in these areas would be “automatically assured of funding commensurate with the needs of patients who choose to register them”.

His letter added that he doubted there was a single solution to the shortage of GPs in some areas. NHS England would be “open to exploring many different ideas for how we might best do this”.