A LEADING think tank chief said it is "astonishing" that there is no public record of how taxpayers' cash is spent in GP practices.

Alison Payne, research director at independent think tank Reform Scotland said it was an "inconsistency" at the heart of the NHS.

She said: “I find it astonishing given the amount of public money that goes into GP practices, that we have no record of how that money is spent."

It comes after the Herald revealed that research carried out by public health consultants in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde had uncovered evidence that some Deep End GPs had been using cash intended to benefit patients in order to hike up their own salaries, in some cases to more than £300,000.

Deep End practices receive extra taxpayer funding to tackle health inequalities linked to poverty. However, the independent contractor system by which GPs run their practices as small businesses means that it is possible for GP partners to minimise expenses - for example, by not hiring support staff or extra doctors - in order to maximise their own incomes.

Read more: Transparency is best way to end exploitation of GP cash

In a letter to Andrew Scott, the Scottish Government's director of primary care, Dr Helene Irvine, the study author, said this appeared to be occurring most frequently among Deep End GPs because the findings showed a "statistically significant fully adjusted correlation between social deprivation of the patient list and pensionable income per GP partner".

However, the research also found that Deep End GPs had the widest gulf in income per partner, with some earning "very modest sums" because they prioritised investment in practice service while others banked sums in excess of £300,000 - three times the average income for a full-time GP partner in Scotland.

Dr Irvine told Mr Scott that she was disappointed that there "seemed to be little appetite on the part of either the BMA or the Scottish Government to consider the findings", and instead a "desire to suppress it altogether".

Read more: Warning 'majority' of GPs will pocket new contract windfall as salary

She added that this "contrasts dramatically with the strongly held views of many GPs, including Deep End representatives, with whom I have shared the analysis who insist that its dissemination is overwhelmingly in the public interest".

Ms Payne said transparency was key. She added: "Nobody is suggesting for a second that these problems are rife - it’s more just the fact that we don’t even know what’s happening because there’s no requirement to publish accounts."

Read more: Highland GPs 'betrayed' by new contract funding split

Rollout of Phase One of the new Scottish GP contract will see GPs asked to submit their income and expenses data for the first time to Government. The data would be used to develop consultant-style pay scales - but only if GPs vote for Phase Two in 2021. Some have already expressed opposition to what they see as a "salaried service by stealth".

Dr Alan McDevitt, chair of the BMA Scotland's GP Committee, said Phase Two will address "variation in GP income".

A Scottish Government spokeswoman also acknowledged that there was "significant variation in GP pay around Scotland". She added that phase two will consider "the introduction of a GP income range that is comparable to that of consultants".

A spokeswoman for NHSGGC said: “The findings of Dr Irvine’s research, carried out on her own initiative, have been shared with the Scottish Government for information and consideration.

“The Deep End GP practices work in some of the most deprived communities in Scotland and are delivering a lot to help reduce health inequalities. As a Health Board we are committed to reducing health inequalities and ensuring NHS funds are used in the best possible way to achieve this.”