The growth in the number of primary care trusts (PCTs) has given general practitioners (GPs) more power to deliver the services that their patients need.
An extra 124 PCTs came into operation in April, bringing the total to 164.
PCTs are comprised of a group of community health professionals and are usually the first port of call for patients. They include GP surgeries and other healthcare providers, such as dentists and opticians.
They have budgetary responsibility, allowing them to commission services to meet the needs of the local community.
By 2004, PCTs will have responsibility for at least 75 per cent of the NHS budget. In 1997, GPs were controlling just 15 per cent of NHS spending.
Health minister John Denham said: “In just two years, the percentage of the population whose healthcare is being delivered by a PCT has risen from zero to 47.7 per cent, covering a total of 24.3m people. By 2004, we aim to make that 100 per cent.
“PCTs change the way healthcare is managed at a local level for patients. This government is devolving and delegating real responsibility for the provision of services to GPs, nurses and other health professionals working in a PCT.”