A new report argues that giving patients control over healthcare funding could revolutionise the way in which care is delivered, provide enhanced outcomes and change the nature of the patient–professional relationship.
The report, Personal Health Budgets: The shape of things to come?, from the NHS Confederation follows the government's announcement at the end of last week that direct payments to patients will be piloted, as part of the proposed Health Bill.
NHS Confederation Chief Executive Steve Barnett (pictured) said: "In our view, putting money in the hands of patients could improve care planning and have a profound impact in areas such as end-of-life care, mental health or maternity services.
"There is a growing body of evidence to suggest health outcomes are improved when the patient is directly involved in making decisions about their treatment and the way in which care is delivered by NHS staff."
However, he added: "There are significant barriers that need to be overcome before this policy is rolled out nationally: should patients be allowed to spend their personal budgets on non-cost-effective treatments? Should individuals be allowed to top-up their care? Should patients be allowed to invest personal budgets to be spent at a later date?
"Any pilots should consider these issues in more detail. Personal health budgets could revolutionise the way in which care is delivered, but they are not without risks."
Similarly, the chief executive of healthcare thinktank the King's Fund, Niall Dickson, said: "Direct payments offer the potential for patients to have more control over the care they receive, allowing treatment to be truly personalised.
"However, their use won't be straightforward. Getting the initial payment level right will be important as will deciding what restrictions to place on the kind of treatment a patient is allowed to purchase with tax payers' money, and from whom."
He added: "The pilots must be genuine, with no decision to extend the scheme until all the results have been thoroughly evaluated and all the implications understood."