The Government has announced plans to bankroll personal health budgets for patients to the tune of £1.5million during the first stage of their national roll-out, before pilots of the scheme have concluded.
The funding will see the project through from this autumn until April 2013, when the NHS Commissioning Board will take responsibility for further rollout of the scheme via CCGs.
Norman Lamb, care and support minister, announced the funding this week, saying it would be made available subject to results from the pilot programme involving 60 PCTs, due to conclude this autumn.
But the GPC said that the timing of the announcement suggested the Government had already made up its mind, and was potentially undermining CCGs autonomy to decide whether rolling them out locally was appropriate.
The personal budgets being piloted involve care plans which set out the individuals' needs or desired health outcomes, the amount of money in their budget, and how this will be spent.
These are developed by the patient with their healthcare professionals and then signed off by PCTs. CCGs will take on this responsibility from April 2013.
A DH spokesperson told Pulse that subject to successful evaluation of the pilots, it was expected that the current pilot programme would be extended, with CCGs offering patients budgets on a voluntary basis until April 2014 when patients who would benefit from personal budgets to be able to ask their CCGs for them.
During that period the DH will put in place the necessary legal arrangements for this.
The draft mandate to the NHS Commissioning Board, published in July this year, said patients' rights would apply to people receiving NHS Continuing Healthcare and to parents of children with special educational needs or disabilities, who will be able to ask for a personal budget based on a single assessment across health, social care and education.
But the mandate also makes it clear that ‘the Government wants commissioners across the country to offer personal health budgets wherever appropriate'.
Mr Lamb said: ‘We want to ensure more care is tailored around people's individual needs and preferences. Giving those with complex health needs the control of how to spend money on their care gives them and their doctors the flexibility to try innovative new approaches to achieve better health outcomes.
‘Subject to the results of the current pilot programme, our aim is to introduce a right to a personal health budget for people who would benefit from them most – the scale and pace of this will be informed by the independent evaluation.
‘We want to be on the front foot as the results become known – that is why we've identified £1.5m to support the NHS in the first stage of the roll out as it starts to implement personal health budgets.'
But Dr Chaand Nagpaul, GPC negotiator said that ‘the jury was still out' on personal budgets.
‘I hope that any extension of this policy is based on a proper assessment of the pilots and is not just an ideological initiative,' he warned. ‘As far as I´m aware, the jury is still out on personal budgets - on the role they´ll have, and certainly on the extent to which they be employed.
‘The pilots themselves are looking at a range of different types - a mix of initiatives and different scenarios - so we don't yet know what will work and what won't.
‘In addition, it would be sensible of the DH not to pre-empt the wishes of CCGs next April, who may have their own ideas of how they want personal budgets to work.'