Primary care trusts lack the 'depth of expertise'needed to take responsibility for mental health services, according to Commons health select committee members.

The first session of the committee's inquiry into the provision of mental health services opened last week with Labour MPs sceptical about the wisdom of letting GPs take the lead in mental health commissioning and provision.

Committee chair David Hinchliffe led the attack, claiming that GPs were ill-equipped for their new role.'I know many GPs who I wouldn't want to come round and section me, 'he said.

Mr Hinchliffe also claimed the direction of change was 'uncertain and fragmented'.

'If I was a professional I would say, ''Where will I be in five years, who will I be working for?'' If I was a service user I would be completely baffled.'

Eileen Gordon, Labour MP for Romford, suggested mental health services might fall into a 'gap' while GPs were learning their new role.

Department of Health officials giving evidence to the committee denied that mental health services might deteriorate during the hand-over to PCTs. Dr Sheila Adam, NHS Executive health services director, insisted that PCTs would be asked to 'demonstrate their capacity and ability to take on mental health services'.

John Mahoney, joint head of the Executive's mental health services branch, said he would be 'surprised' if smaller PCTs even attempted to assume sole responsibility for mental health. But those who made the leap would be expected to follow through.

Dr Adam also defended the national service framework for mental health against charges that it lacked clout and would have little impact.The flexibility the framework allowed at local level was 'realistic' she said, not an excuse for inaction.

NHS Confederation policy manager on mental health Janice Miles, a former chief executive of Ashworth Special Hospital, told HSJ the MPs' fears about PCTs were exaggerated.

'As part of the assessment process around PCTs there does need to be a clear criterion against which their ability to do this (take on mental health) is judged.But PCTs are not just GPs. They have senior managers who are leading them and I'm sure they understand the risks.'

NHS Alliance chair Dr Michael Dixon said: 'Commissioning of mental health services by health authorities has been far from perfect - it's not been invo lved w i th lo ca l pro fess iona ls or the local population. With PCTs, effectively, we will get much more sensitive commissioning.'