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CCGs warned to expect media scrutiny over personal budgets

GP commissioners will have to justify the more ‘unusual' use of personal budgets when they are rolled out nationwide in 2014 as media interest is likely to intensify in expenditure on the scheme, says a senior official at the Department of Health.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley has announced personal health budgets will be rolled out to everyone receiving NHS continuity of care by April 2014, but experts have warned expenditure on non-NHS treatments would prove controversial.

Speaking at the seminar, deputy director of the NHS Commissioning Unit, Andrew Sanderson warned that commissioners will need to ‘robustly justify' the use of personal health budgets for ‘unusual' uses of public money.

He said: ‘Questions will inevitably be raised on the more unusual ways of spending personal health budgets.'

‘Commissioners will need to justify this spending robustly as a good use of public money that is delivering the outcomes that it is supposed to.'

‘There will be more media and political interest in this, therefore commissioners need to be aware of that and have a clear understanding of what the money is achieving.'

Ann Austin, head of the personal health budgets team at the Department of Health, said the ‘cultural shift' needed to implement personal budgets was the biggest challenge in the pilot sites currently running across half the PCTs in England.

Speaking at a Westminster Health Forum seminar on personal health budgets, she said: ‘The shift toto giving real power and choices to patients has been one of the biggest barriers so far'.

The fourth interim report on personal health budgets' implementation is due to be published in May, with the final report due in October this year.

RCGP national clinical commissioning champion and a GP in Southampton, Dr David Paynton, said commissioners would have to be careful over reports that patients were spending their budgets on treatments such as homeopathy or buying in non-NHS services.

He said: ‘There needs to be an understanding of what is important for the patient.'

‘For instance, loneliness can have a much greater effect on healthcare costs than people realise'.

Dr Paynton said proactive personalisation of care and care planning needed to become ‘mainstream' in the NHS if the service was to continue in its current form beyond the next decade.