LOCAL doctors are just days away from being at the heart of a new era of healthcare across western Hampshire.

From midnight this Sunday, primary care trusts will be abolished as part of the biggest reforms to the NHS since it was launched in 1948.

They are being replaced from 1 April by clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) – new organisations led by family doctors who will be responsible for planning and buying healthcare services for their areas.

Test Valley’s Dr Sarah Scofield, who has 25 years’ medical experience, is chairman of the CCG in this area and is excited about the new arrangement, which she says puts clinicians in the driving seat.

She said: “I definitely think we can make a difference to healthcare and thus to lives.

“I think that GPs are in very close contact with stories of local healthcare which can influence change and development to embed good practice and improve weaker practice.

“Working with partners through the Health and Wellbeing Board, we will be able to focus on health prevention as well as treatment of illness.”

The reforms are a key part of the Government agenda to give GPs and other clinicians a much greater say in improving services for their patients.

NHS West Hampshire CCG will represent more than half a million patients in the New Forest, Eastleigh, Winchester and Test Valley areas, including Andover and the Avon Valley.

It will be the largest of five CCGs in Hampshire and will have a £582m budget to cover acute hospitals, community services and prescribing services for their local populations.

As far as family doctors are concerned, patients will still deal with the same staff that they always do.

The work of most GPs at the 54 member practices will be unaffected.

But some will play an active role in CCG business while continuing their duties as doctors – supported by professional full-time staff.