HEALTH chiefs have been urged to reject a dramatic shake-up that threatens to swipe up to £170m from the region – and hand it to richer areas in the South.

NHS England will decide today (Tuesday, December 17) on a new funding formula that would shift NHS resources from deprived areas to those with higher numbers of pensioners.

The most extreme proposal would take £170m a year – or more than £50-per-head – from the North-East and North Yorkshire, according to the organisation’s own analysis.

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It would be taken from the budgets of the GP-led ‘clinical commissioning groups’ (CCGs), which buy treatments for patients.

If the formula had been applied this year, Durham Dales, Easington and Sedgefield CCG would have lost £17.7m – or almost one in every £20 it receives.

The losses would have been even higher in other parts of the North-East, in Gateshead (down 8.2 per cent), South Tyneside (9.4 per cent) and Sunderland (11.4 per cent).

The formula would also have penalised CCGs in North Yorkshire, in Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby (down 4.5 per cent) and Scarborough and Ryedale (4.6 per cent).

But there would be huge funding leaps in David Cameron’s own area of Oxfordshire (£39.5m), and the Tory heartlands of Dorset (£67.8m), West Sussex (£56.1m) and West Kent (£39.8m).

Following a fierce backlash, NHS England suggested it was rethinking the draconian proposal and will continue to protect poorer areas to some degree.

However, The Northern Echo understands that only two of the four options to be discussed by its board today will award any funds on grounds of deprivation.

Grahame Morris, Labour MP for Easington, said: “It is nothing short of immoral to raid NHS funding in east Durham to give it to more affluent areas.

“These plans would see local GP opening hours cut back, treatments restricted to save money and more NHS Walk-in Centres forced to close down.”

Health professionals have described the proposed changes as “very worrying” – warning of “significant cuts in services for patients” if it goes ahead.

But Mr Cameron has sidestepped the row, insisting any new formula is the responsibility of NHS England, an independent body at arms-length from ministers.

Furthermore, the “fair shares formula” – first proposed a year ago, but dropped after protests – was put forward by the independent Advisory Committee on Resource Allocation’s (ACRA).

It is designed to better reflect the higher costs of caring for an ageing population, say experts, and any changes are likely to be phased in over several years.

Just months before the 2010 general election, the prime minister promised to introduce a “health premium”, to target spending at poorer areas.

And he said, in 2010: “Health inequalities in 21st century Britain are as wide as they were in Victorian times. We must target resources at the worst-off areas.”