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Lansley faces grilling over consortia debt

By Gareth Iacobucci

Health secretary Andrew Lansley has been forced to swat away fears from within his own party that GP consortia could inherit crippling financial deficits, after a GP-turned-MP warned practices were being frightened away from engagement in commissioning.

In a health committee session on public expenditure yesterday, GP and Conservative MP for Totnes Dr Sarah Wollaston told the health secretary she was concerned that some PCTs were in financial ‘meltdown’, and urged Mr Lansley to give GPs reassurance that consortia would not be saddled with huge debts when they take on responsibility for commissioning from 2013.

But Mr Lansley said it was ‘premature’ for GPs to be worried about debts they may inherit in two and half a years time, and urged the profession to focus its energies on collaborative working.

Mr Lansley’s grilling from MPs followed the Government’s pledge to ‘straighten out’ the issue of PCT debts transferring to GPs in next month’s operating framework, as Pulse’s A Clean Slate campaign places ministers under pressure to find a solution.

Dr Wollaston, who was recently appointed to the committee, said: ‘PCTs are in meltdown in some areas. How are we going to deliver the efficiency challenge?

She added: ‘We’ve seen some practices not wanting to join together in certain consortia because of concerns about historic debt. Would you be able to give them some reassurance about the issue of historic debt?’

But Mr Lansley attempted to bat away her concerns, by reminding the committee that it was only four months since the white paper was unveiled.

He said: ‘We are just inviting the pathfinder consortia to establish themselves. I think it’s probably premature for commissioning consortia to look at issues like [debt].’

‘They should look at, simply, “how do we think we should collectively best work together in order to structure our consortia to meet the needs of our patients delivering the services we want”.’

‘These are the sorts of issues to focus on, rather than saying, “we can’t have a practice from over there because they will come with that PCTs’ debt”. We are two and a half years away from the point when they will be taking legal responsibility.’

Dr Sarah Wollaston: PCTs are in ‘meltdown’ Dr Sarah Wollaston: PCTs are in ‘meltdown’ Click here to read more about our campaign A Clean Slate campaign Watch the evidence session