FAMILY doctors' referrals to a body scanning service are being scrapped because of funding problems, despite a £318,000 boost which appears to have solved overspend difficulties.

Darlington Primary Care Group (PCG) received a warning from financial advisor Peter Chrisp of a £253,300 overspend, which was mostly the result of prescribing costs.

He said that since his report was written, windfall cash had arrived from County Durham and Darlington Health Authority.

But he said the £64,700 the PCG was now predicted to have left of its budget could not be used to continue running HealthSouth (UK)'s GP access to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.

The scheme's budget for 2001/2 was set at £80,877, an increase of £20,000 on the previous year, but the PCG heard the cost had reached £79,945 by the end of October.

Inpatient access to MRI scans would not be affected, only outpatients referral, the PCG heard.

An extra £51,633 would have been needed to fund the activity until the end of the year, but Mr Chrisp said this would not be advisable, because the cost of prescribing, which accounted for £240,890 of the projected overspend, was uncertain.

The PCG board heard the only option was to stop all direct GP referrals to HealthSouth.

Mr Chrisp said the money from the health authority was part of £2m being returned to PCGs after it was given to the authority to support its trusts.

l A £50,000 cash boost is expected to help health chiefs prepare for the extra demands on resources brought about by winter.

Darlington Primary Care Group yesterday agreed the sum to expand the winter programme devised by the Locality Capacity Planning Group.

Funding has already been allocated by South Durham Health Care NHS Trust, Darlington Social Services, Cleveland Health Call and the North East Ambulance Trust