Health: Doctors' run on GP funds feared

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National Health Service managers warned yesterday that there could be a run on health authority funds, damaging patient care, following the Government's announcement this week of an end to GP fundholding.

Health authorities hold an estimated pounds 200m of accrued savings on behalf of GP fundholders, and fear that family doctors may seek to withdraw it suddenly now they know that fundholding is to end by April 1999.

Jaki Meekings, chairman of the Healthcare Financial Management Association, said: "This money belongs to the GPs and is held by health authorities who have used it for their own purposes but who are acting effectively as a savings bank. They have planned to pay it back but our worry is the doctors may all want it at once. It is like all the members of a building society going in and withdrawing their savings on the same day."

There are 3,500 GP fundholders, covering more than half the population, who are allocated budgets for drugs, nursing staff and routine hospital care for their patients. They are allowed to keep any savings they make to invest in extending their surgeries or improving patient care in other ways. Up to four years' savings can be accrued before they must be spent.

Under the Government's plans for the NHS, set out in a White Paper published last Tuesday, GP fundholding is to be replaced from April 1999 by Primary Care Groups, local collectives of about 50 GPs who will have control of almost the entire NHS budget for their areas.

Ms Meekings said it was the association's job to warn of any move which could financially destabilise the NHS.