HEALTH bosses have been criticised for spending £350,000 of taxpayers’ money to tackle a possible £11.1m budget black hole.

Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (OCCG) took over purchasing the county’s healthcare in April and had to find £26m of savings just to meet its £650m budget this financial year.

It is now under fire for the way it is trying to balance the books, although others have defended the measures.

The health body brought in audit and accounting firm Deloitte to help with the cash flow and the Oxford Mail can reveal this three-month contract will cost £350,000 – or £3,933 a day between November 4 and January 31.

The OCCG said the short-term investment would achieve longer term savings but Oxford East Labour MP Andrew Smith said the cost was “beyond belief”.

He said: “It is a costly panic measure which shows how ill-prepared the group was to take on the job the Primary Care Trust used to do.

“This is yet another cost of the Government’s unnecessary and botched NHS reorganisation.”

Mr Smith said he would “demand” details from OCCG and the Government on exactly how the £350,000 will be spent – an amount he said could buy more than 18,000 hours of home care.

Largely due to more people using Oxfordshire’s hospitals, costs have increased and the OCCG has predicted it could finish the year with a £11.1m deficit.

If this happens, the GP-led commissioning group faces the prospect of having managers replaced by Government officials to bring the finances in line.

The OCCG, whose chief executive is Dr Stephen Richards, took over purchasing the county’s healthcare, ranging from A&E departments and ambulances to non-emergency operations and maternity services, from Oxfordshire Primary Care Trust on April 1. It was part of a Government reorganisation to involve doctors in the commissioning process.

County councillor Susanna Pressel, a member of Oxfordshire’s joint health overview and scrutiny committee, said: “This shows up how enormously damaging the Government reorganisation has been because the CCGs are now responsible for most of the money in the NHS and yet they have virtually no control over how that money is spent, because the hospitals carry out procedures and the CCGs have to pay out of their budgets.”

Banbury MP Sir Tony Baldry said: “For my part, I can well understand large public sector bodies with multi-million pound procurement budgets needing professional support, particularly in their first year.”

An OCCG spokesman said: “We have contracted Deloitte until the end of January to provide additional expertise and specialist skills to help with our financial recovery.

“This short-term investment is to allow us to achieve longer term savings.”

Deloitte declined to comment.

The Department of Health said: “Our reforms will save the NHS £5.5bn in this Parliament alone and then £1.5bn every year after. The health service will improve, work smarter and build an NHS that delivers high quality, compassionate care.”