Doctor leaders have called for a review of the national personal health budget scheme, following Pulse’s revelation that millions of pounds of NHS funding were spent on luxury items and holidays.
Pulse’s investigation, based on information contained under the Freedom of Information Act, revealed that the scheme, which is designed to give ‘patients more control over their care’ has been used to buy many unevidenced treatments at the expense of long-established services, which have been defunded.
GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey told Pulse that a review had to put ‘rigorous safeguards in place’ to ensure spending decisions are ‘consistent’ throughout the country.
He said that although the BMA had long expressed concerns over the scheme, Pulse’s investigation had ‘highlighted the very real problems’ with the scheme, especially in light of NHS funding pressues.
Dr Vautrey said: ‘NHS England should review the scheme to ensure there are no instances of inappropriate payments made and that there are rigorous safeguards in place to account for spending decisions and to ensure there is a consistent approach throughout England.
‘The BMA has consistently had concerns about the personal health budget scheme as it has the potential to lead to a greater fragmentation of the health service and, as we’ve seen with social care, runs the risk of taking us a step closer to user charges for patients who currently receive free care.
He added: ‘However on the specifics of the examples you’ve (Pulse) identified there is a risk that when we are highlighting the very real problems being created by the funding pressures facing the NHS, the public starts to question whether the NHS is spending their taxes wisely or fairly when they see individuals receiving items that they would normally expect to be bought themselves.’
As part of the investigation Pulse discovered that NHS Nene CCG and NHS Corby CCG gave patient funds to have a holiday to rest and reconnect with family, an iRobot, and the construction of a summer house while NHS Kernow CCG spent £2,080 on a patient’s aromatherapy, £248 on horse riding lessons and also spent money for a patient to hire a pedalo. Meanwhile NHS Stoke CCG spent money on a Wii Fit games console for a patient, and £1,000 on a patient’s weekly music lessons.
Since October last year, all eligible patients have had the right to hold a personal health budget, which enables them to spend NHS money as they wish. NHS England is enthusiastic about the scheme – the Five Year Forward View has even called for a ‘major expansion’ of the scheme to groups who may benefit, in particular people with learning disabilities and this month it is launching roadshows for a ‘development programme to support (CCGs) in expanding their offer of personal health budgets in 2015-16’.
However the scheme has been criticised by the BMA and others. Professor Nick Watson, professor of health and wellbeing at the University of Glasgow, described the scheme as ‘consumerist’.
But NHS England strongly defended personal health budgets, arguing that they gave patients more control over the care and support they receive.