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Health minister in ‘astonishing’ debts gaffe

By Ian Quinn

Exclusive: Health minister Simon Burns is at the centre of confusion after telling GPs at a seminar they would definitely not have to inherit debts when they take over from PCTs – even if PCTs accumulate further debt after this April.

The minister was questioned on the thorny issue at a recent seminar in his home constituency of Chelmsford, attended by around 80 GPs, many of them members of GP consortia pathfinders.

Several sources have confirmed to Pulse that he explicitly told GPs there was no question of debts being inherited by consortia when they take over from PCTs in 2013.

However, the DH later claimed he had made no such promise, re-stating its previous position that: ‘PCT legacy debt arising prior to 2011/12 will not be passed on to GP consortia. During 2012/13 GP consortia will be working with PCTs to ensure financial control.’

In December, Pulse’s A Clean Slate campaign won a key victory for GPs when ministers announced that GP commissioners would start with a clean slate from April. However, the Government’s pledge crucially stopped short of guaranteeing that all GP consortia will take on commissioning responsibility in April 2013 entirely free of debt.

And PCTs’ moves to postpone GP referrals until after the new financial year in April – revealed by Pulse today – have heightened fears GPs will be lumbered with debt accumulated between 2011 and 2013 when they finally take over the reins.

Event organiser Paul Samrah, head of healthcare at chartered accountants Kingston Smith LLP, who was also among the speakers at the event, said: ‘For the DH to to deny that the minister said this makes them a laughing stock. There were 80 GPs in the room over half of them were in a consortium. For them this is a huge issue and there was no way what he said could have been misinterpreted.

‘If he’s got it wrong it’s simply astonishing.’

Another speaker, Ian Crompton, head of healthcare banking services at LloydsTSB Commercial, which jointly sponsored the event, said: ‘He was quite categorical. He said there was no way GPs would be expected to inherit debts.’

Simon Burns: sparked denials from DH over GPs inheriting PCT debt Simon Burns: sparked denials from DH over GPs inheriting PCT debt