NEW care boards tasked with transforming the care of the elderly in Scotland start life this week with services that have plunged millions of pounds into the red.

Budgets for adult care services in more than half Scotland's council areas are expected to burst this financial year wracking up a combined overspend of more than £13m.

Measures to try and curb spending have included restricting care home admissions, reducing allocations of equipment to help the frail manage at home, reviewing the support patients are receiving and not filling staff vacancies.

This Friday (April 1) the budgets for adult social care services along with GP surgeries and community nursing transfer to new care authorities dubbed Health and Social Care Partnerships. The Scottish Government has described this move as the biggest reform of health and social care "since the creation of the NHS". The new boards are expected to reform the way vulnerable people are looked after in the community to ensure the NHS can cope with the rising elderly population.

But an investigation by The Herald has found many of the boards will be inheriting services which were unable to stay in budget in the 2015-16 financial year due to high demand. Six of the new boards are already operational and the investigation also found evidence they have struggled to stay in the black.

In response to a Freedom of Information Request South Ayrshire said their new care board approved a plan to cut spending by £740,000 this financial year. The measures included restricting care home admissions and reducing the money spent on aids which help people live in their own homes. Papers noted these cuts risked increasing the time frail patients spent in hospital. Restricting respite care was another measure agreed, although the council noted it could "affect the welfare of carers" and lead to a "break down" in the home which would be more expensive to sort out.

In East Dunbartonshire, where the health and social care partnership is also operational, the FOI revealed senior staff had agreed contingency reserves could be used to help offset some of the overspend expected this year.

In West Dunbartonshire papers show the budget of the new health and social care board was expected to run £727 000 into the red by April.

Across 31 local authority areas, 19 said they were predicting an overspend on adult social care services totalling £13.26m. In addition Edinburgh City Council said their books were balanced this year but savings of £15.2m would need to be made in the field of adult social care next year.

Dr Alan McDevitt, chair of the Scottish General Practitioners Committee of the BMA, said: "It is quite worrying. Patients in the community depend on social care in order to stay in their own homes. That is fundamentally part of what we need to do in Scotland. It gives me concern if the effects of this are that there is not enough money to manage the care patients require."

Shona Robison, Scottish Health Secretary, has said more than half a billion pounds is being invested over the next three years to ensure the new boards drive change. A fund of £250m has also been promised to the new boards for the new financial year, although the cash has been given to the NHS.

Insiders have expressed concern that much time is going to be taken up agreeing budgets and accountability arrangements, making it difficult for the new boards to make a substantial difference to patients in their firest year.

Elaine Torrance, vice president of Social Work Scotland, said: "Local authority budgets have been under pressure for some time and people are trying to redesign services and it will become the remits of the new joint boards when they are up and running from April. There are definite challenges for them to have to address."

She added that there were economies of scale which could be achieved from the new set up which could help the new boards be more efficient.

The council areas which told The Herald they were projecting an overspend on adult social care were Aberdeenshire, Argyll and Bute, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Clackmannanshire, Dumfries and Galloway, East Ayrshire, East Dunbartonshire, East Lothian, East Renfrewshire, Falkirk, Fife, Inverclyde, Midlothian, Moray, North Ayrshire, Orkney, South Ayrshire, Stirling and West Dunbartonshire. Angus Council did not respond.

It is understood the new care boards do not have to bail out overspends accumulated when services were under council control.