The number of NHS patients with a personal health budget to cover their healthcare needs has jumped to more than 10,000, latest official figures show.
The figures indicate there has been a bigger rise in uptake so far this year than in previous years, although the numbers are currently still well short of the Government target of 100,000 budget holders by 2020.
The jump comes after major drive from NHS England to promote the budgets, despite concerns from the BMA and NICE that they should be re-evaluated before the scheme is rolled out any further.
The data, from 185 CCGs, show they had arranged 10,824 personal health budgets by October last year. This represents a 130% rise in total budget holders compared with the same stage in 2015/16, NHS England said.
It means more than 2,400 extra patients took up personal budgets in the first six months of the financial year – after 3,300 new patients signed up for the budgets in the whole of 2015/16 and 2,400 the year before.
Under the scheme, patients with complex health needs or long-term conditions are given a budget – usually directly paid to them – which they can then use to buy health services of their own choosing.
The Government wants between 50,000 and 100,000 patients to have personal health budgets by 2020 and last year allocated some £1.2m to promoting their uptake with a series of roadshows and workshops encouraging CCGs to offer them to patients.
But commissioners have expressed doubts about whether personal health budgets will offer value for money, and the scheme has been criticised for wasting NHS money on unconventional treatments and ‘luxury’ items at the cost of traditional NHS services.
NHS England is also currently expanding the offer of personal health budgets under the integrated personal commissioning (IPC) scheme – including budgets that combine both health and social care needs. The IPC programme, already up and running in 12 areas, was recently rolled out to six new regions.
An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘NHS England currently collects the number of personal health budgets quarterly via a voluntary self-assessment survey. For Q2 2016/17, 185 CCGs responded to the survey reporting a total of 10,824 personal health budgets, representing an increase of 130% compared to the same period in 2015/16.’
The spokesperson added that ‘data isn’t available at this stage’ on combined budgets.
How the drive for personal health budgets ran into controversy
NHS England is keen to roll out personal health budgets under the Government’s personalisation agenda, to give people more say in how they are cared for.
A Government-commissioned report on pilots of the scheme found the budgets were ‘cost-neutral’ and led to improvements in quality of life – but an alternative review of the evidence revealed that patients who benefited had spent significantly more on their healthcare than those using usual NHS care.
A Pulse investigation revealed that some patients had used their health budget to purchase things like summer houses, holidays and laptops, while a mental health daycare centre in one area was forced to close when the CCG cut funding in order to set up personal health budgets.
Critics also warn that personal health budgets could be used to cap funding and introduce ‘top-up’ payments for those who can afford it, as a precursor to private insurance schemes.
The BMA has called for a review of the scheme in light of Pulse’s findings and NICE chiefs have said personal health budgets should be re-evaluated before any further rollout.