The government's decision to distribute £600m of Budget cash to the NHS with no strings attached has been warmly welcomed - but overshadowed by claims that the announcement was 'spun' into an 'anti-bureaucrat crusade'.

The money will be distributed through normal channels, with the proviso that it should not be spent at health authority level but sent on to trusts and primary care groups.A further£60m is being retained to reward top performers, to be released in quarterly tranches.

NHS Confederation chief executive Stephen Thornton condemned 'overspinning' ahead of Tuesday's announcement that resulted in newspaper stories claiming health secretary Alan Milburn would bypass HAs and take 'unprecedented' control of how the money was spent.

'This is how waiting-list money is traditionally allocated. This is the performance management we are all used to and we do not have a problem with it, ' Mr Thornton said. 'To spin it like this is unacceptable.'

But the confederation, which called for a£600m cash injection for the NHS in the days before the Budget, reacted positively to news that the money was 'coming out without targets'.

Healthcare Financial Management Association chair Barry Elliott said this would be 'extremely helpful' since it was needed to deal with deficits and cost pressures. But he urged regional offices and HAs to take a 'realistic stance' and not delay distribution of the money or attach their own conditions to it.

The decision to allocate the money with no new targets is being presented as a recognition of the need to deal with underlying pressures and as a vote of confidence in management.

Managers will also be drawn into the government's latest push for reform through the 'modernisation action teams' set up last week to tackle the five challenges set by prime minister Tony Blair in his post-Budget statement on NHS modernisation.

Members of the NHS Executive will also be drafted on to the teams. A small steering group including Mr Milburn, NHS chief executive Sir Alan Langlands and chief medical officer Professor Liam Donaldson will oversee their work, which is to produce a 'national health plan' for presentation in July.

HSJ understands that ministers feel the structure for reforming the NHS is now in place and there is widespread agreement on the problems that need to be tackled.These include poor standards in some areas, variations in peformance and health inequalities.

The teams are an attempt to draw in organisations and staff to produce concrete and tangible solutions to the issues. Mr Thornton welcomed the teams, but said drawing up the plan should not be allowed to delay release of more funds.

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