PCTs could be allowed to spend their share of the government's £250 million access fund on paying GPs to open later rather than building super-surgeries.
The fund was announced in October's comprehensive spending review and follows an interim report from health minister Lord Ara Darzi's review of the NHS, which called for improved access.
Although the money will fund 100 new surgeries in under-doctored areas as well as 150 walk-in centres, health minister Ben Bradshaw has indicated that where PCTs think this is not necessary the money could be spent on other areas to improve access, such as extended hours.
Speaking at a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group for primary care and public health in London last week, Mr Bradshaw said: 'I don't think we should be completely prescriptive about one health centre per PCT. If PCTs can make a good case then we will discuss what they might need instead.'
GPC negotiator Dr Richard Vautrey, who raised the issue at the meeting, said afterwards: 'This gives me optimism that there will be some flexibility and that there are ways to improve access other than building a walk-in centre or new surgery. It makes sense to use this to fund extended opening hours.
'I still treat the comments with caution and want to see more detail and assurances from the government. Apart from these comments the tone until now has still been very prescriptive.'
Last week a GP survey found that 62.7 per cent of GPs would open surgeries for longer if funded.
Some PCTs are already funding extended hours through local enhanced service schemes.
A four-month pilot in Sunderland is offering £133 per hour for a staff of one doctor, one nurse and two reception staff to work for an extra two hours in the evening.
Sheffield PCT is also running a similar pilot scheme, providing a one-off payment of £500 for practices to open for an extra two hours a week.
Wandsworth PCT offers £96 per hour.
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