Personal care budgets or "individual budgets" (IBs) can give mental health patients and younger disabled people a better quality of life, though older people are not keen on the idea of managing their own support.
These were the findings from a pilot scheme evaluation report launched today (21 October 2008) by Care Services Minister Phil Hope.
The independent evaluation, conducted by a combined team of five university research units, will feed into work to introduce pilots of personal budgets for healthcare from 2009, as announced in the NHS Next Stage Review.
As part of the Department of Health's (DH) plan to transform social care, the DH announced in late 2007 it would empower people to shape their own lives and the services they receive through personal budgets.
While the pilot report found no important differences in overall cost (IBs cost on average about £280 compared with £300 for standard mainstream services), there were indications that individual budgets have the potential to offer greater value for money.
People can choose to use the money to fund the care that suits them best and fits in with their lifestyle – for example, by having someone support them at home rather than going into residential care.
IBs give people with care needs the power to decide the nature of their own support. The report showed that while most groups liked this, older people did not find the IB system as easy to use as other groups, and did not appear to like the idea of managing their own support.
However, mental health service users in the IB group reported a significantly higher quality of life. Younger physically disabled people were more satisfied with the help they received, the choice and control they experienced and felt they had the opportunity to build better quality support networks. People with learning disabilities were more likely to feel that they had control over their daily lives.
Care Services Minister Phil Hope said: "IBs can put people back in control of their own care, and give them a better quality of life. This report is invaluable in helping us understand the benefits of individual budgets, as well as the action we need to take so that everyone can benefit from them.
"Since this research was undertaken, more support has been put in place for older people and early indicators have shown that this has transformed their experiences of using IBs.
"We will conduct further research to investigate the impacts further. We must also get better at letting people know that they don't have to take on management of the budget themselves."
The latest Management in Practice survey focuses on healthcare finance issues pertinent to practice management. Completing the survey will take just 5 minutes and the results will be reported in the Winter 2008 issue of Management in Practice magazine. There will also be a prize draw where four lucky winners will win £50 worth of Marks & Spencer vouchers. Simply click here to take part