The British Medical Association has called for a review of Personal Health Budgets after an investigation by Pulse revealed earlier this week that some patients had spent their cash on non-clinical treatments, including a summer home and singing lessons.

Personal health budgets give patients a pot of money they can use to elect different elements of care, such as choosing alternative methods of pain relief like hydrotherapy over conventional analgesics, an initiative which health officials argue has been shown to improve quality of life.

But looking at information contained under the Freedom of Information Act, Pulse found that the scheme has been used “to buy many unevidenced treatments at the expense of long-established services, which have been defunded”.

For example, NHS Nene CCG and NHS Corby CCG gave patient funds to have a holiday to rest and reconnect with family, an iRobot, and the construction of a summer house, while NHS Kernow CCG spent £2,080 on a patient’s aromatherapy, £248 on horse riding lessons and also spent money for a patient to hire a pedalo, it said.

According to Pulse, CCGs in England are anticipating spending £123 million on PHBs during the current financial year, with individual CCGs allocating an average of £600,000 on the scheme.

Destabilising services

Expressing “concern” over the findings, the BMA GPs committee deputy chair Richard Vautrey has urged the Government to look into scheme, noting that financial pressures in the health service make it vital that funding is not “frittered away”, and warning that “inappropriate use of funds could impact on other services”.

“Giving patients a greater say on their healthcare is a desirable aim, but we remain concerned that the implementation of PHBs risks destabilising services, could leave some patients without access to care and is not delivering clear clinical results”.

“Precious NHS resources funded by the taxpayer should not be used to fund items or activities that have no evidence of clinical value and certainly shouldn't be spent on what many would regard as luxury purchases”, he stressed.