Personal health budgets 'could pay for holidays'

NHS managers may allow patients to use personal health budgets to pay for holidays if they can prove it will benefit their health.

Personal health budgets may stretch to non-standard use of NHS cash like holidays (Photograph: SPL)
Personal health budgets may stretch to non-standard use of NHS cash like holidays (Photograph: SPL)

Around half of PCTs are now piloting the schemes, which allow patients to directly manage a proportion of NHS funding spent on their care.

Speaking at a Westminster Health Forum event in London on Wednesday, a PCT manager involved in one of the pilots said he would not rule out using NHS money for holidays.

Benedict Hefford, associate director of commissioning at Hammersmith and Fulham PCT, in west London, said: 'The default should be that you can do something if there is evidence of benefit.'

Mr Hefford used the example of 'Tom', a patient with COPD, who would be able to use a personal budget to replace carpets in his home and install air conditioning, which could improve his health.

But Sheffield GP Dr Paul Hodgkin asked: ‘What if Tom says he likes his carpet and he doesn't want air conditioning, but wants to go to Malaga for the winter?'

Mr Hefford replied: ‘It would put me in a difficult position, but I would not rule it out.'

Former health secretary Patricia Hewitt, chairing the event, broadly backed such non-standard use of NHS cash.

One speaker mentioned the case of an MS sufferer who used NHS funds to buy a season ticket for a fellow football fan to accompany him to Rochdale matches.

Ms Hewitt said: ‘I bet it did him a lot more good than paying for day care.'

Andrew Sanderson, deputy director of the DoH policy support unit, told the conference that 77 PCTs had bid to take part in personal budget pilots. A total of 70 had been confirmed, with more than half piloting budgets for patients with long-term conditions.

Nearly as many were piloting budgets for patients needing continuing care, and others were piloting budgets with mental health or end of life care patients, he said.

Mr Sanderson said the DoH had given a ‘clear commitment' to supporting personal health budgets, and could hand patients a right to hold budgets in future.

King's Fund social care senior fellow Richard Humphries, however, pointed out that the pace at which personal budgets had been taken up in social care had been ‘glacial'.

He said that 10 years after legislation took effect to allow direct payments to social care users in 1996, just £2 in every £100 spent on adult social care was spent in this way.

The figure now was around 3%, he said, despite a target of 30% by March 2011.

He added that there were ‘no big flashing lights over personal budgets saying this is going to save shedloads of money'.

But he said there were signs that patients could be good stewards of the funding. He added that data showed younger patients with disabilities or those with mental health issues were likely to benefit, but older people were less likely to report improved psychological wellbeing after receiving direct payments.

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