Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has announced that one-year pilot schemes for a new initiative which will allow patients to choose their GP practice will begin in April.

The pilots, which will run in parts of central London, Manchester/Salford and Nottingham, will allow the public, for the first time, to choose whether to register with a practice close to their workplace or home without worrying about practice boundaries. 

Commuters who are away from their local area during the working day will benefit most from the pilots, as they will find it easier to see their doctor when it suits them and receive the same services as in their old practice, say officials. The scheme will also be of particular benefit to people who are moving home and wish to remain with their preferred practice, and families who would like a practice near to their children's school, they add.

"This is just the beginning of a range of measures we hope to introduce to make the NHS truly patient-focused and will allow us to better understand their needs," said Mr Lansley.

"Many patients are happy with their local GP practice, but a significant minority have problems registering with a practice of their choice. This pilot will mean patients taking part can access the high-quality care they deserve in a place and at a time that suits them. That's why I believe patients should have the freedom to choose a GP practice that suits their lives, and not be restricted by geographical boundaries," he added.

The initiative was welcomed by Westminster GP Ruth O’Hare, who said it will mean that “commuters working in the heart of London will in future have far greater flexibility around their choice of GP, enabling some to choose to see a GP closer to where they work.”

The Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) involved in the pilots are Westminster, City & Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Manchester, Salford and Nottingham City. The sites have been selected because they have high numbers of commuters travelling into the area each day, and one of the sites (Nottingham) is an existing live 111 pilot site.

GP practices in these PCT areas will be able to join the pilot on a voluntary basis, and the funding to pay for patients who use surgeries on a consultation-only basis will be capped at £2 million.

The pilots will subjected to an independent evaluation organised by the Department of Health.