The NHS’s leadership has been ordered by the health select committee to explain which pots of money the £3bn Department of Health underspend handed back to the Treasury came from.

HSJ last month revealed the DH had returned nearly £3bn of its funding to the Treasury over the past two years.

Committee chair Stephen Dorrell told NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson and his deputy David Flory they would need to elaborate in writing after deeming they had failed to provide a full explanation on the matter at a hearing this morning.

Mr Dorrell told HSJ: “The question is what has happened to the balance and how much of it is still available to the NHS?

“Could some of the £3bn that has gone over to the Treasury come back to the NHS and [if so] over what period?”

Mr Flory told the committee that the vast majority of the money was capital spending that came from national programmes such as Connecting for Health.

He added: “A large part of the number was underspend of capital monies associated with particular projects in the department which hadn’t progressed or progressed at the speed that had been anticipated.

“Capital monies in that sense are one-off by their very nature and can only be spent once and couldn’t support on-going investment in staffing”.

Mr Flory admitted that the “headline was a very powerful one of money going back to the Treasury from the department”.

Sir David and Mr Flory were asked on more than one occasion who had made the decision to hand the money back to the Treasury but both declined to answer.

Sir David defends head of brand role

Sir David Nicholson was forced to defend the NHS Commissioning Board’s decision to appoint a “head of brand” on a salary of nearly £100,000 but he admitted the job was “rather unfortunately titled”.

He told the committee it was “really important” that independent organisations that provide NHS services sign up to the NHS’s culture and the values and that the process is properly overseen.  

Asked if the NHS was a service or a brand, he said: “It’s absolutely a service. If anything else, [the job] was rather unfortunately titled.”