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Government launches pilots offering patients real personal budgets

By Gareth Iacobucci

Patients will be given cash to purchase their own NHS care for the first time under a new Government scheme.

The direct payments pilot, announced by health minister Paul Burstow, is to be rolled out across eight PCTs, who will directly hand patients the money for their care, allowing them to decide how, where and from whom they receive treatment.

Real personal budgets are already available to patients to purchase some forms of social care, but until now, personal health budgets have only been obtainable via PCTs or third parties.

The pilot scheme, which will run until 2012, is being developed to help patients with long term conditions such as diabetes, stroke, heart disease, end of life care and mental health conditions.

But the BMA has expressed concerns over the potential for the funding to be used to pay for ‘inappropriate and/or non-evidence based services or treatments', including complementary therapies such as homeopathy.

Care services minister Paul Burstow said the scheme had ‘real potential to improve the lives of individuals with long-term health needs'.

He said: ‘There is strong evidence from the social care sector that direct payments help achieve better outcomes, and give people more choice and control over the care they receive. It also encourages a more preventative approach. It is a step away from the rigidity of PCTs deciding what services a patient will receive.

‘Direct payments will not work for everyone or for all patient groups or services, but we want to identify whether, for whom and how they could offer an opportunity to help achieve the best health and wellbeing outcomes. That is why we are developing this pilot programme.

‘It will stop healthcare from slipping back to the days of one-dimensional, like-it-or-lump-it services.'

Areas with pilot schemes offering real cash budgets to patients

Doncaster PCT: Continuing healthcare and mental health

Eastern & Coastal Kent PCT: Continuing healthcare, end-of-life care, maternity, and mental health

Central London (joint bid from Hammersmith and Fulham PCT, Kensington and Chelsea PCT and Westminster PCT): Continuing healthcare, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, dementia, diabetes, and mental health

Islington PCT: Continuing healthcare (in limited circumstances, with expansion subject to further approval)

Merseyside (Joint bid from Knowsley PCT, Liverpool PCT and Sefton PCT): Mental health

Oxford PCT: Continuing healthcare and end–of-life care

Somerset PCT: Children in transition to adult services, learning disabilities, long-term neurological conditions

West Sussex PCT: Carers of people who have recently been diagnosed with dementia, children in transition to adult services, continuing healthcare

Some have raised fears that personal budgets could be used for controversial treatments, such as homeopathy

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