Almost £150m of public money has been invested in creating a "two-tier health service" by subsidising the start-up costs of GP fundholders, it is claimed today.
Since April 1991 practices in England have received almost £100m to meet the administrative costs of becoming fund-holders. In addition, new figures show that GPs have received £48.2m towards buying computer equipment to support their fundholding activities.
About 35 per cent (10,000) of GPs in England and Wales are now fundholders. There is growing evidence that their patients get priority in obtaining appointments and treatments at some hospitals despite government assurances that clinical need is the deciding factor.
Alan Langlands, head of the NHS Executive, will today be questioned by the Commons Public Accounts Committee on whether GP fundholding has represented good value for the tax payer.
Alan Milburn, Labour MP for Darlington and a member of the PAC, who obtained the new figures in parliamentary answers, said that while non-fundholders can only claim half of the costs of buying computer equipment, fundholders receive up to 75 per cent of hardware costs and 100 per cent of software costs.
"The Conservatives are using taxpayer's money to create a two-tier health service," he said last night.
A Department of Health spokesman yesterday dismissed the claims, saying: "There is complete equality of funding for GPs for computing. They [fundholders] get additional funding because they undertake additional computing tasks linked with their fundholding."