Published: 30/05/2002, Volume II2, No. 5807 Page 9

The Department of Health is investigating the whereabouts of£75m earmarked for community mental health services.

In November, health minister Jacqui Smith said the cash would be spent on assertive-outreach and crisis-resolution teams - a centrepiece of the national service framework.

The DoH said it was concerned about whether the money was being spent appropriately, and it 'will be closely examining all the spending plans that have been developed across the country'.

The service was 'on track' to meet targets for extra services, such as crisis-resolution, assertive-outreach and early-intervention teams for this year.

HSJ understands mental health 'czar' Louis Appleby has asked John Mahoney and Antony Sheehan, the DoH's two leads on mental health, to talk to primary care trust chief executives to find out more.

Chris Manning, chief executive of charity Primary Care Mental Health Education and member of the government's mental health taskforce, said the money was being used to 'bail out debts'.

'I have spoken to chief executives and mental health leads in care trusts and GPs in Kent, Hampshire, Trent, Essex, London, Surrey and the Midlands and this is their story consistently, ' he said.

'The mental health taskforce is increasingly concerned that the money announced by ministers is not being spent on what it was earmarked for but it is very difficult to prove. There is no point in ministers using fancy rhetorical language when it means nothing in practice.'

Chair of the Healthcare Financial Managers Association, John Flook, said claims that the money was being used to 'bail out debts' were 'highly unlikely' because of the 'rigorous' systems in place for tracking NHS resources.