Chemists, supermarkets and other big stores are to be asked by the Government to open a network of privately run GP surgeries to improve services available to patients.

Alan Johnson, the Health Secretary, backed the idea yesterday as part of a review to mark the 60th anniversary next year of the founding of the National Health Service. He wants GP surgeries or health centres to be opened near to where people work. He also hopes that privately run surgeries will ensure longer opening hours and more GP centres in rundown areas.

Lord Darzi, the Health Minister, will hold a conference next month with companies including the Boots and Lloyds chemists chains, Virgin megastores and other firms which haveexpressed an interest in opening surgeries so they can attract customers to their stores.

Mr Johnson described the move as providing "a health service for the 21st century" and promised to consider a suggestion by the Confederation of British Industry that people should be allowed to register with more than one GP so they could visit a doctor near their place of work or home.