A radical plan to redistribute health funding in Scotland has met a mixed response.

The report of the 18-month investigation of the 20-year- old 'SHARE' distribution system by Professor Sir John Arbuthnott, principal of Strathclyde University, has called for its replacement with a needs-based system.

The result would be a substantial shift in funds from areas such as Lothian to Glasgow and rural areas.

Lothian is£26.9m - 5 per cent of its current budget - above the proposed new target, while Glasgow is£14m below.

Scottish health minister Susan Deacon launched the report, saying 'it proposes that we adjust the allocation of health funding to take into account the inequalities in our society' and that it 'addresses for the first time the needs of primary healthcare'.

She was at pains to stress that 'no health board, including Lothian, will be getting cuts to its budgets in real terms'.

A spokesperson for Lothian health board said it 'supports the Scotlandwide approach to addressing health inequality, but would want time to study the report'.

Greater Glasgow health board chief executive Chris Spry commented: 'The recognition of the impact of deprivation on health needs and what the funding formula should be is good news, but before everyone thinks we've arrived in El Dorado we need to read the small print very carefully.

'Although the bottom line suggests Greater Glasgow is currently funded some£14m a year below the new proposed target, we need to study the statistical analysis to understand how our present spending on the various services compares with the assumptions made about expected spending in the new formula.'

Arbuthnott committee member Dr Adam Bryson said that 'the quest ion of how resources are utilised by trusts was not one we were asked to answer'.

David Forbes, Unison professional officer for Lothian and secretary of the Scottish Health Visitors' Association, said the changes may improve the situation, but 'are not addressing the fundamental problems of chronic underfunding of the NHS in Scotland'.

Arbuthnott report: recommendations for action Guaranteed above-inflation increases in health spending for the lifetime of the present partnership agreement, with at least£1,000 a year per head of population being spent by 2000-01.

A new formula for allocating future growth in health spending. Changes in the distribution of health resources to begin tackling health inequalities.

Recognition of the needs of rural areas.

A planned implementation process to phase in variations in future growth and ensure no geographical area of Scotland is adversely affected by the implementation of the new formula.

Fair Shares for All: national review of resource allocation in the NHS. www.scotland.gov.uk