Patients will have a ‘right to ask' for a personal health budget under plans to extend choice and control for patients revealed in the Government's draft mandate for the NHS.
The plans will see a massive extension to the scheme – currently still being piloted – with patients given a cash budget by the NHS to spend on whatever they choose.
But GP commissioners raised concerns that adoption of personal health budgets was being set in stone before the evidence on their effectiveness was available.
The plans were revealed in the first annual mandate given to the NHS Commissioning Board from health secretary Andrew Lansley for 2013.
The mandate also revealed the quality premium for GP practices would be funded from NHS administration costs and tied the board to various targets, such as treating patients within 18 weeks, improving dementia care and increasing the number of health visitors.
One of the 22 objectives the board must deliver between April 2013 and March 2015 included extending choice and control for patients.
This includes giving patients receiving NHS Continuing Healthcare and parents of children with special educational needs or disabilities the right to a personal budget spanning health, social care and education from April 2014.
The document says: ‘The Government's aim is to create a right to ask for a personal health budget for all those who would benefit from one.'
Pulse reported last month that the budgets had been used to buy diverse items such as theatre tickets, frozen meals and complementary therapies in the pilots.
Health secretary Andrew Lansley said: ‘The launch of these care objectives underlines my ambition to improve outcomes for patients and place patients right at the heart of everything the NHS does.'
A spokesperson for the Department of Health said an evaluation of the pilots due in the Autumn would feed into the final version of the NHS mandate providing more details on how personal health budgets would work.
But Dr David Jenner, a GP in Cullompton, Devon, and GMS/PMS contract lead for the NHS Alliance, said the jury was still out on whether personal health budgets were of benefit to patients.
He said: ‘The pilots are yet to report so as a commissioner I would be waiting to see the results because I believe in evidence-based policy not policy-based evidence.'
Dr Johnny Marshall, a GP in Wendover, Bucks, and interim project manager of NHS Clinical Commissioners, said: ‘How will the effectiveness of personal health budgets be assessed, who decides who would benefit and also what exactly do we mean by personal health budgets? This doesn't answer any of those questions.'
What the mandate says
Personal health budgets extend choice and can empower people to have even more control over their NHS-funded care.
Subject to the results of the current pilot programme, the Government wants commissioners across the country to offer personal health budgets wherever appropriate, including the option of direct payments, and joint budgets across health, social care and other services.
The Government's aim is to create a right to ask for a personal health budget for all those who would benefit from one.
Source: NHS Mandate