Feature Patient Led Care

Do personal health budgets lead to better care choices?

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d6532 (Published 11 October 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d6532
  1. Caroline White, freelance medical journalist
  1. 1London, UK
  1. cwhite{at}bmjgroup.com

Tens of thousands of NHS patients are to get personal health budgets. Does this mean more money will be spent on non-evidence based treatments and private sector services? Or does giving patients responsibility for care choices improve outcomes? Caroline White reports

Last week, England’s health secretary Andrew Lansley announced that 53 000 people with ongoing complex health and care needs would be the first group to become eligible for personal health budgets from April 2014.

The announcement was accompanied by the caveat “subject to evaluation of the pilot programme,” which runs until October 2012, and the disclaimer that the health secretary was responding to the NHS Future Forum choice and competition report in June. This backed the introduction of personal health budgets for patients with complex needs and urged the government to spell out its intentions for the policy.

But according to Karen Jones, a research fellow at the University of Kent who is leading the evaluation of personal health budgets, the government’s intentions have never been in any doubt.

“In all the conversations I’ve had with the Department of Health, there was always going to be a roll out. They were waiting for the evidence to guide policy, explore the best methods to use, and for which groups,” she explains.

Personal health budgets enable holders to purchase services of their choosing either directly or through a third party, with the ultimate aim of boosting health outcomes. The government also hopes they will prompt more integrated care and cut overall costs.

Since the coalition came to power, personal health budgets have featured regularly in key health and social care policy documents, including the public services white paper in July.

As care services minister Paul Burstow put it in July 2010, “In so many ways, personal budgets encapsulate what we represent. Our …

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