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PCOs can use out-of-hours cash for debts

PCOs will be free to spend the £100 million Government out-of-hours cash to pay off debts after the Department of Health admitted the money is not ring-fenced.

The investment, announ-ced by health minister John Hutton last month, is intended partly to help enable GP co-operatives continue to operate if most GPs opt out of their 24-hour responsibility under the new contract.

But now GPs have warned many co-ops could close because PCOs will siphon off the money to cover prescribing overspends and other deficits.

PCOs could also delay GPs opting out if the co-op closes and they cannot commission another provider to take over.

Dr David Carson, the Government's national clinical lead on primary care access and choice, defended the

decision, arguing it would allow trusts and health boards to spend the cash integrating out-of-hours services with other providers.

'The general policy is not to ring-fence money and to put it in PCO allocations,' he said. 'While I can see some co-ops might perceive a threat there are also opportunities.'

But Dr Fay Wilson, medical director of Birmingham and District GP Emergency Rooms (BADGER), said the Government had done 'the same old thing' by announcing new funding then disclosing it was not ring-fenced.

'It does not help PCTs deploy money in the right areas,' she said. 'There are targets with Prime Ministerial must-dos attached to them, such as A&E waits, but if we want to ensure money goes to what it's meant to, then it should be ring-fenced.'

Dr Alex Yeates, medical director of Medway Doctors on Call, and a GP in Rochester, Kent, warned some co-ops would fold. 'Trusts facing big prescribing overspends may use it to cover those, which would be a disaster for

co-ops,' he said.

'I am certain a few will not survive, and what will happen then when the PCTs are responsible for providing out-of-hours care?'

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