This site is intended for health professionals only

Patients shun personal budget pilots

By Ian Quinn

Exclusive: Government plans to give patients control of their own health budgets have failed spectacularly to get off the ground and have left GPs in the dark, Pulse can reveal.

Several pilot areas selected nearly a year ago are yet to recruit any patients, despite being promised hundreds of thousands of pounds each in funding. Where patients have been recruited, NHS managers claim each is requiring so much attention the scheme risks denying care to those who aren’t included.

The previous government provided £2m of funding for personal budget trials in 20 sites across England last December and the coalition then injected an extra £4m to ramp up the scheme – due to go nationwide in 2012 – by providing real cash in some areas.

But Pulse’s investigation finds trusts have only recruited handfuls of patients at best.

NHS Havering – a pilot site for diabetes, COPD and stroke and one of nine authorised to offer direct payments – said it did ‘not have any patients registered’, despite the scheme running since February.

Barking and Havering LMC said in a report that response had been poor, adding ‘practices do not want to take it up’.

NHS Wiltshire, part of a trial on cardiac and stroke care, admitted: ‘No money has been spent on patient care’ and ‘no patients have been allocated budgets’, despite the scheme being up and running for more than six months.

NHS Oxfordshire said it was expecting to spend £178,000 this year on continuing healthcare, having signed up 20 patients. It refused say what money had been spent on.

NHS Nottingham City is piloting personal budgets for patients with neurological conditions and has awarded just over £8,000 for items including hypnotherapy, gym membership and repairs to exercise bikes.

But a report by the trust said it had struggled to recruit its 14 patients and raised concerns the scheme was leading to ‘increased health inequalities’.

‘There is huge time involved,’ it said. ‘This may result in people recruited to the pilot getting a lot more than they would normally, which may artificially improve their health while preventing other people having the same level of care.’

The trust added: ‘It was expected that recruitment would start slow. This is the first month that this recruitment target has been met. It should also be noted that some PCTs haven’t recruited anyone to the pilot yet.’

Chris Locke, chief executive of Nottinghamshire LMC, said it recently asked local GPs about their experiences: ‘We couldn’t find a single practice that had been involved. Many had never heard of the scheme.’

Elsewhere, NHS Dorset has signed up just nine patients since February, although plans to offer budgets to 75 by March 2011.

An NHS Hammersmith and Fulham and NHS Kensington and Chelsea joint project, has signed up only eight patients and released no budgets.

Personal budget pilots have failed to get off the ground Personal budget pilots have failed to get off the ground