£1.5m for personal health budgets rollout after ‘positive’ evaluation

Long-awaited evaluation of government's personal health budget pilots finds benefits are greatest among people with high health needs.

Personal health budgets will be made available to all people in receipt of continuing healthcare after an evaluation of the government’s pilot scheme found the budgets improved people’s quality of life and mental well-being.

Social care minister Norman Lamb said the government will invest £1.5 million to hand personal budgets to the estimated 56,000 people in receipt of NHS Continuing Care. The rollout will be completed by 2014, in line with the previous commitment made by former Health Secretary Andrew Lansley.

Lamb’s announcement came alongside the publication of an independent assessment of the government’s personal health budgets pilot programme. The government has been piloting personal health budgets at 20 sites over the last three years.

The long-awaited independent evaluation of the scheme, published today, found that personal health budgets led to “significant improvements” in the quality of life and psychological wellbeing of people with high-level health needs.

The study, conducted by researchers from Kent and York Universities, Imperial College and the London School of Economics, also found:

  • Personal health budgets were cost-effective for people with mental health problems and those receiving NHS continuing healthcare.
  • The benefits for personal health budgets were most positive in pilot sites that were explicit in informing people of the budget amount and offered them flexibility and choice in what people could purchase with them.
  • Carers of people with personal health budgets reported a better quality of life and improved health.
  • People in receipt of personal budgets valued the “increased choice, control and flexibility” offered but warned that benefits were curtailed by restrictions on how they could use their budgets or budgets being too small for their needs.

The report recommended improved integration for accounting procedures for people who hold personal budgets for both health and social care.

Only a minority of people interviewed by researchers said they could manage both personal budgets through a single bank account and there was “considerable confusion” about what could be funded from each budget.

One carer of a budget holder reported disputes between her local authority and primary care trust over the funding of a new wheelchair for her severely disabled daughter.

“It’s sold as if you’ve got much more control… but when it comes down to it, we’ve had all this trouble in getting it approved to buy an electric wheelchair which [daughter] has been assessed as needing,” she told researchers.

Sue Bott and Bill Davidson, co-chairs of Think Local Act Personal –  the sector coalition set up to help implement personalisation, said: “It’s obvious from the evaluation that the best results are achieved when personal budgets are implemented using the principles of self-directed support – when people know how much money is available to them at the start, have the flexibility to choose the services they want and can manage the money in a way that suits them best.

“This mirrors our experiences of personal budgets in social care.”

The statement added: “As personal health budgets are now rolled out, it is important to make strong links across health and social care, to help to achieve integration of support at the level of the individual.”

Julie Stansfield, CEO of personalisation charity In Control, said: “It is welcome news that, very importantly, there are plans to expand the use of personal health budgets, regardless of the condition and logically, dependent on the level of need.”
Mark Goldring, chief executive of Mencap, said the rollout “will give people with a learning disability the power to choose the health care that they need”.

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