Patients to manage own health budgets

By Laura Miller

Some patients will soon be able to choose where they buy their healthcare using money paid to them directly, the government announced today.

The plans are included in a new health bill unveiled today by Lord Darzi, aimed at giving people with long-term conditions like Parkinson’s or motor neurone disease, or those who use mental health services, more control over their access to care.

A similar system has been used successfully in social care for over a decade, but the British Medical Association (BMA) has voiced concerns over the political motivation behind the government’s latest personal care budgets.

“The public deserves a high quality, integrated, innovative NHS which focuses on their needs, and is clinically led in partnership with patients. Political ideology must not get in the way of this goal,” said Dr Hamish Meldrum, Chairman of Council at the BMA.

“We await the outcome of the pilot of direct payments, but believe they may not be the best way of giving patients more power. It seems to further establish the idea of healthcare as a commodity, which the BMA does not believe is in patients’ best interests,” he said.

Putting the patient in charge of their health spending will mean the NHS relinquishing its role as a cost-effective watchdog, which could cause problems if patients choose more expensive treatments.

So far plans are only pilot scheme, and there are few details of how such a system would work in practice if rolled out nationally, including what would happen when a patient’s budget ran out.

Also included in the bill are proposals to protect young people and children from harm caused by smoking, such as bringing an end to cigarette vending machines and the display of tobacco products in shops.

However the BMA commended other measures in the bill to protect children and young people from tobacco.

“Half of smokers will die because of their habit, so it is essential that children and young people don’t start smoking. Some young people mistakenly believe smoking to be cool and glamorous but the truth is that it kills and destroys lives,” said Dr Meldrum.

The bill also included proposals to encourage innovation and quality in the NHS.