Patients have been allowed to use NHS funds to buy theatre tickets, frozen meals and complementary therapies under pilots of personal health budgets, a Department of Health report reveals.
The report details the wide range of ways that patients spent their allocated NHS budget, and reveals that around a fifth of requests were rejected by NHS managers.
The pilots are currently being run in over 2,700 participants across 20 sites and aim to give patients a notional budget that they are able to use to organise their care.
The Government has pledged to roll-out personal budgets more widely, with the interim report examining the experiences of 52 patients and 13 carers taking part in the NHS pilots.
The evaluation found ‘widespread potential' for personal health budgets to improve health and well-being, with common uses including employing carers or personal assistants in the home, physical exercise, and complementary or alternative therapies.
But it raised concerns over delays in implementing budgets, with some areas having delays of up to eight months for approval.
There were also reports of confusion about what the budgets were for, and frustration over the approval process.
A fifth of those interviewed had had their plans for how to spend the budget rejected, despite receiving no clear guidelines on what was allowed.
There were also apparent differences between the 17 PCTs overhow the money could be spent.
The report said having plans turned down caused disappointment and frustration and made people reluctant to make new requests.
One example cited a woman confined to bed and who had made the case she needed a laptop to undertake online courses, manage her medication, and socialise, but found the request rejected despite patients in other PCTs using the money in this way.
A ‘significant minority' were confused about what their personal health budget was being used for.
But most interviewees said that the personal health budget had improved their health and in some cases had exceeded initial expectations.
Dr Amit Bhargava, chair of Crawley CCG, said their experience had shown that a light touch was needed otherwise you could end up spending more on bureaucracy than on personal budgets themselves.
He added: ‘When you let patients choose, they choose things that are quite sensible. If the pilots show it makes a different to quality of life then as long as they can justify it they should be able to spend it how they like.'
Dr Peter Swinyard, a GP in Swindon and chair of the Family Doctor Association said: ‘I´m sure a visit to the theatre or a curry might make you feel better but I´m not sure why the taxpayer should pay for it. It´s just one of these politically wonderful ideas that´s a nightmare to implement.'
What patients are spending their budgets on
· Theatre tickets
· Frozen meals
· Complementary therapies
· Home carers or personal assistants
· Physical exercise
Source: Department of health