Personal health budgets are a good idea ‘in principle’, but variation in how they are applied could create damaging inequalities between patients, says the RCGP.
In a letter to the Government, the RCGP said it wants to work with the Government on setting up a stricter policy framework for the scheme, which gives patients with long-term conditions cash budgets to spend on care.
It raises concerns that the personal care budgets are being used for ineffective treatments and that commissioning bodies are applying widely different policies for how patients can use their budgets in different areas of the country.
A full evaluation of the pilots is due to be published later this year, although the Department of Health has already committed to giving a personal health budget to everyone who receives continuing care by 2014 and giving all eligible patients the right to one after that.
An interim evaluation published last month revealed the budgets were being used for theatre tickets, manicures and complementary therapies.
The RCGP has warned the Government it must set out clearer guidelines to prevent the funds being wasted and to address funding issues before rolling the scheme out. In particular, it wants GPs to sign off all personal health budget care plans to ensure they are clinically effective.
Professor Nigel Mathers, RCGP vice chair, said: ‘There are quite a lot of questions that have not been answered yet. We hope we can engage with the Government and contribute to the policy framework.
‘We are concerned about the clinical effectiveness, the funding issues and the workload that will come with implementing the scheme, as well as the potential inequalities that may arise when CCGs assess personal care budget applications differently. Theoretically, patients will be able to use their budgets on crystal therapy.’