Debt-free PCTs to bail out hospitals

Move will ensure trusts can start implementing polyclinic plans, says NHS London.

Plans to take up to £275 million from London PCTs' budgets to pay off hospital debts have been criticised as unfair.

The 26 PCTs in London without debts will see 1.3 per cent of their budgets go towards paying off the deficits of 11 hospital trusts and Hillingdon PCT, for two years.

A further £304 million will be top-sliced from NHS London's budget to pay off the debts, which could reach £579 million by 2011 if no action is taken.

NHS London said the move would ensure all trusts were on an 'even keel' and could start implementing health minister Lord Ara Darzi's Healthcare for London proposals together.

The King's Fund also praised the move, suggesting it would help push forward the development of Lord Darzi's polyclinic plans for the capital, which have stalled recently.

The King's Fund's chief economist John Appleby said: 'This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the NHS in London.

'The capital stands on the verge of major changes to the way health services are delivered to Londoners.

This will go a long way to securing better health services in the capital and helping the NHS to really focus on delivering high quality services.'

But Londonwide LMCs joint chief executive Dr Tony Stanton said 'yet again' PCTs would be under pressure to bail out the acute sector.

Londonwide LMCs has been fighting to access some of NHS London's budget for investment in existing GP premises.

The capital's PCTs hold a £300 million surplus overall.

The Conservatives said the deal went against government pledges to pay back PCTs whose budgets had been held centrally or 'top sliced.'

Shadow Conservative health secretary Andrew Lansley said measures should not encourage financial 'irresponsibility' in the future.

The deal will eat into PCTs annual growth, forecast to be between and 5 and 10 per cent over the next two years.

NHS London made the announcement ahead of the allocation of the primary care budget to English PCTs for 2009/10; £74 billion is available, up £3.8 billion from last year.

tom.ireland@haymarket.com.

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