latest health care news

01.09.15

Millions of NHS personal budget cash spent on ‘luxury goods’

Millions of pounds from the NHS ‘personal health budgets’ cash pot were spent on “luxury goods” such as summer houses and holidays, according to an investigation by Pulse.

Information obtained through Freedom of Information requests showed that CCGs in England predict spending over £120m this year for 4,800 patients on the personal health budgets scheme.

The scheme, technically to give patients “more control over their care”, was used to buy “unevidenced treatments” allegedly at the expense of long-standing services.

Nene CCG and Corby CCG spent a joint £2.55m on 161 patients, including treating patients to a family holiday, an iRobot, satnav, and a new summer house.

Kernow CCG spent more than £2,000 on a patient’s aromatherapy, almost £250 on horse riding lessons and an unknown amount on pedalo boat hiring.

Stoke CCG spent money on Wii Fit games console for a patient, as well as £1,000 on weekly music lessons, which the provider said was “judged to help the patient and represent excellent value for the NHS”.

Sheffield CCG was the highest spender overall on personal health budgets, forking out £4.6m across 174 patients’ needs – largely on domiciliary care.

Since October last year all eligible patients had the right to hold a personal health budget, agreed between them and their NHS team, allowing them to spend public money to support their health and wellbeing needs.

Dr Richard Vautrey, deputy chairman of the BMA’s GP committee, said: “We continue to have real reservations about this scheme and the inappropriate use of scarce NHS money on non-evidence-based therapies.

“While individuals may themselves value a massage or summer house, others will understandably start to question why they can’t also have such things paid for by the state – and that will just fuel demand.”

But a spokesperson for NHS England said personal health budgets are designed to meet relevant health needs “in ways that give patients more control over the care and support they receive”.

They added: “The spending must be agreed between the individual and the NHS, meet patients’ individual health needs and achieve the desired outcomes. An independent evaluation has shown personal health budgets are cost effective, help people manage their health and improve quality of life.”

In 2013, NHE spoke to the Royal College of Nursing’s assistant policy adviser, Laura Clarke, about concerns over the NHS-funded budgets.

Clarke said: “We think, particularly in light of the current financial context, that there’s a real danger in seeing this as a money-saving policy, because it isn’t. You need lots of support, particularly clinical support, to have an effective personal health budget and ensure your care plans are adequate along your patient journey.

“It doesn’t seem reasonable to expect that money’s going to be there to ensure the policy can be implemented as it should be.”

Managing PHBs

Personal health budgets can be managed in three ways, or a combination of them:

  • Notional budget: the money is held by the NHS
  • Third party budget: the money is paid to an organisation that holds the money on the person’s behalf
  • Direct payment for health care: the money is paid to the person or their representative

The costs of emergency/unplanned care, medication, prescriptions and other chargeable services, and most primary care services such as GP visits should not be included in a personal health budget.

(Source: ‘How to set budgets – early learning from the personal health budget pilot’, Department of Health)

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