Civilian doctors have been assured that they will remain absolutely key to defence primary care, notwithstanding the proposed radical overhaul.

The Civilian Doctors Conference, at which the assurance was given, provides a forum for civilian medical practitioners to learn about developments in the Defence Medical Services.

Primary care services for military personnel and their families in the UK, currently delivered separately across the three armed forces, will be merged into a single service by April 2014, if a proposed pilot is successful.

Royal Air Force Chief of Staff and Director of General Medical Services, Air Vice-Marshal Aroop Mozumder, who is leading the merger, told civilian doctors that there would continue to be a very significant role for them in the future of defence medicine and that they should see very little change in their day-to-day practice despite the reconfiguration.

Under the plans, the UK will be divided into nine regions, each with a regional headquarters and led by a medically qualified regional director. If a region has a considerable number of army personnel, it is likely to be headed by an army medic, at least initially.

The new system will be piloted in the Portsmouth area, where 25,000 military personnel are based, in January 2013. Depending on the results of the pilot, the merger is due to start next April and be completed by April 2014.