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Personal budgets ‘unlikely to save money’

By Lilian Anekwe

Personal budgets are unlikely to result in significant cost savings, according to a review of the scheme being implemented in social care.

In May, the Government announced it would broaden the personal budgets drive from social care to primary care, by announcing a pilot of direct payments in eight PCTs, where patients would be given real cash to use to pay for NHS treatments, and the ability to decide where and from whom to purchase services.

But an Audit Commission report, published earlier this week, highlighted several areas of concern, including the difficulty in achieving cost savings.

The report said: ‘There may be cost savings in future years if personal budgets lead to better outcomes in personal budgetholders, for instance, delaying a condition worsening. However, the savings associated with this would be difficult to identify or quantify.’

Allowing patients to purchase their own services may put existing services commissioned under block contracts under threat, it warned. Current joint arrangements, such as pooled funds between a primary care trust or mental health trust, are also ‘not flexible enough’ to adapt to personal budgets, it found.

Organisations overseeing personal budgets in primary care – currently PCTs but expected to be GP consortia if the scheme is rolled out more widely – ‘should develop suitable and proportionate arrangements that tackle the risk of fraud but do not stifle innovation or the spirit of personal budgets and personalisation.’

Andy McKeon, managing director of health at the Audit Commission adds: ‘The rationale behind personal budgets is not saving money, but empowering service users.

‘Personal budgets mean personal choice. They can improve health, wellbeing and user satisfaction. But the growth in personal budgets puts block contracts and in-house service provision at risk, as a result of the freedom to choose from different services and providers.’

Personal budgets in COPD