A GROUP of GP surgeries from the Reading area has been chosen to lead one of the biggest shake-ups in the history of the NHS.

The 18 practices, which serve more than 100,000 people in south Reading, will be among the first in the country to test-run radical Government proposals to give doctors control of the NHS purse strings.

Dr Elizabeth Johnston, a GP at the Reading University Medical Practice and head of the South Reading GP Consortium said: "This will be invaluable experience

and is a vote of confidence from the Government for the work we've been doing to improve health care for our patients."

Announcing the first wave of 'pathfinder' GPs, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: "I am delighted by the response and the evident enthusiasm for taking these ideas forward.

"They have demonstrated an enthusiasm and excitement for change and shown that there are many GPs ready and willing to take on commissioning responsibilities, so they can make the decisions that better meet the needs of their local communities and improve outcomes for their patients."

The South Reading Consortium, which serves half of Reading's population, is one of 52 groups of GPs across England chosen to try out the new funding arrangements which give doctors responsibility for 'buying' care for patients.

Further groups of GPs are now expected to come forward to take charge of funding before their responsibilities become law in April 2013.

The Government's health white paper also spells the end of primary care trust NHS Berkshire West, which currently controls funding locally, as well as the South Central Strategic Health Authority.

Reading borough lead member for health, Lib Dem Cllr Daisy Benson, said: "This group of trailblazing GPs, led by Dr Elizabeth Johnston, have been leading the way since 2006 and it is fantastic to see their efforts have been nationally recognised by Government.

"I hope the Government's plans to reduce bureaucracy and put more power in the hands of GPs will lead to better outcomes for thousands of patients in Reading."

Practices in the South Reading Consortium include: University of Reading Medical Practice; Milman Road; Tilehurst Village; Melrose Surgery; Eldon Road; London Road; South Reading; Pembroke; Whitley Villa; Kennet; London Street; Chatham Street; 79 Russell Street; Abbey Medical Centre; Reading Walk-In Centre; Shinfield and Grovelands.