By Gareth Iacobucci
The Department of Health has admitted that moves to offer patients personal health budgets are being hampered by the NHS reforms and the financial squeeze, but insisted that policy was 'here to stay'.
The Government is currently piloting the policy with a view to a full roll-out in the NHS commencing in 2012.
Speaking at the Westminster Health Forum last week, Andrew Sanderson, the deputy director of the DH's policy support unit, admitted that the transition from PCTs to GP consortia and the on-going funding cuts had made a difficult job 'even more difficult' for pilot sites currently testing the feasibility of the scheme.
But he said the policy, devised by the previous Government, would continue. He said: 'Clearly there are some challenges. It's undeniable that the transition process and funding cuts have made a difficult job even more difficult for pilot sites. We recognise that the progress is slow and difficult.'
But he added: 'It's vital to keep the momentum on pilots. People can have confidence that this agenda is here to stay.'
NHS managers involved in the on-going pilots said there was some anecdotal evidence emerging personal budgets improved patient health.
Azra Iqbal, project manager for personal health budgets at the Birmingham Health and Wellbeing partnership, said one pilot with diabetes patients had reduced HbA1c levels, and helped them lose weight.
Ms Iqbal said the most popular areas that patients had spent budgets were exercise equipment, Wii fit computer games, alternative therapies and cookery courses, while others had requested to spend their budgets on a horse, a holiday and membership of an online dating site.Personal budgets 'here to stay'