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Patients to be given ‘fundamental right’ to personal health budgets

Patients will be given even greater rights to receive a personal health budget from October next year, after a Government minister claimed that the current plans do not go far enough to support patients.

Under the new plans, announced this week by care minister Norman Lamb, patients with long-term conditions will be given the right to receive a personal health budget - as opposed to simply requesting one, as the original plan stated - from October next year.

Speaking at a Commons health committee meeting on Tuesday, Mr Lamb said the Government’s original plans did not go far enough to ensure CCGs offer the option of personal health budgets to people with long-term conditions.

The budgets – a lump sum for patients to spend as they choose on their healthcare needs – were originally enshrined in the government’s NHS mandate as something a patient would ‘have the right to ask’ for.

But Mr Lamb said to ensure there would be ‘change across the system’ he wanted it to be a ‘fundamental right’ to hold the budget, adding that he wants to see the scheme extended to people with mental health problems.

He said: ‘When I came to post last September there was a plan to legislate for a right to request a personal health budgets for people on NHS [continuing healthcare].’

‘I felt that doesn’t do enough to change behaviour across the system. There will be some CCGs that are very good at encouraging and facilitating people in taking control, but others that will do very little to change the traditional way of doing things.

‘I wanted a “right to have” a personal health budget not just a right to request [one], which will come in force in October next year. So from April next year, there will be a legal right to request, but ultimately for the CCG to say no. But from October it will be a right “to have”.’

Mr Lamb added that the right to hold a personal budget would be ‘subject to some safeguards in cases where it proves impossible, but it will be fundamentally a right to have a personal health budget’.

And he said: ‘I’m very keen that we extend that beyond people that have NHS continuing care – a prime area [in which] I would like to develop the concept is mental health.

‘If there is any area where we should be empowering people to take more control of their lives then surely it is mental health.’

The announcement came as the Department of Health said patients ‘who could benefit’ will get the option of holding their own personal health budget, ‘subject to the evaluation of the pilot programme’, in an updated draft of the NHS Mandate.

Mr Lamb said the pilots showed that ‘in areas where power was given to the patients, the best results emerged’.

Quizzed on the use of complementary and alternative therapies, including piano therapy, tai chi and sports therapy under the use of personal health budgets, Mr Lamb said patients had shown they were ‘good custodians’ and should not be constrained in using the budgets as they choose – although he conceded that ‘markets would develop’ in complementary and alternative therapies as a result.

He said: ‘We’ve got to open our minds. Let’s focus on what is the central principle in the Care Bill, which is wellbeing – we shouldn’t be asking what service can we deliver, we should be asking how do we help this person to live a good life?’

He added: ‘If you have personal health budgets for particular areas of care, I suspect that markets will develop for the sort of things people want to use the money on – but where it’s rational for the individual, we shouldn’t seek to overly constrain the way the money is used.’

‘People tend to be pretty good custodians of the money as well. They don’t choose to go out and spend it rashly, they realise it’s a scarce resource.’