Doctors at a pilot fundholding project in Scotland have reacted angrily to an unprecedented decision by the local health board to resume control of their budget.

Members of the Nairn and Ardersier group, one of six 'total fundholding' pilots approved by the Scottish Office in March 1996, issued a statement saying they were 'absolutely shocked' by Highland health board's decision.

The health board resumed control of the group's budget at the start of last week after claiming it had run up a deficit of almost pounds1m.

Acting public health director Dennis Tracey said the group had failed to agree contracts for 1996-97 with its two major providers, Raigmore Hospital trust and Highland Communities trust.

'The uncertainty this created towards the end of the financial year, plus the overspend, prompted us to act now,' he said.

But Nairn and Ardersier group general manager Campbell Mair said the health board's claims that the group had overspent by pounds900,000 were based on its original allocated budget, which had been revised.

He claimed the health board had agreed that its actual budget slippage was pounds80,000-pounds160,000 and asked 'what it is going to do that we could not do' to resolve the contracting problems.

The group has now asked for a meeting with the health board and formally requested that the Accounts Commission for Scotland check the group's finances.

Dr Tracey said the health board was keen to maintain some 'innovative' work done by the group, particularly its development of local asthma and maternity services.

But he claimed the GPs had overestimated the amount of money they would be able to pull out of contracts with existing providers by doing more work themselves.