The government is setting aside £1.5 million to help fuel a national introduction of personal health budgets for certain National Health Service patients, which could take place later this year.

More than 60 primary care trusts in England are currently involved in a nationwide pilot programme, which, it is hoped, will help clarify how personal health budgets can best benefit patients, the aspects of care they could be spent on, and the best route of their implementation.

Evaluation of the pilots is expected this Autumn, and so the Department of Health has identified the funds to ensure that the scheme is 'good to go' as soon as the findings are known.

“We want to be on the front foot as the results become known – that is why we’ve identified £1.5m to support the NHS in the first stage of the roll out as it starts to implement personal health budgets," Care and Support Minister Norman Lamb said earlier this week.

The £1.5m funding will underpin the budgets until April 2013, after which point responsibility for them will transfer to the NHS Commissioning Board. 

According to the government, personal health budgets will give patients real control and choice, by ensuring that care is tailored to meet their health and care needs.

“Giving those with complex health needs the control of how to spend money on their care gives them and their doctors the flexibility to try innovative new approaches to achieve better health outcomes," Lamb said.

Concerns over the scheme

The government seems keen to push on with their introduction as soon as possible. But earlier this year, the Royal College of General Practitioners appealed for a delay, warning of potential problems that should be addressed before a widespread roll-out.

For one, it says there are issues surrounding the "appropriate balance of responsibilities for ensuring the clinical effectiveness and quality of services purchased", and it has asked the government to ensure that the scheme does not throw up additional health inequalities.

Elsewhere, experts writing in earlier this year warned that a similar system of personal health budgets in The Netherlands has become unsustainable.

There is also concern that patients could spend their cash alternative therapies such as Reiki reflexology and aromatherapy, which may not be supported by scientific evidence.

And the British Medical Association has also previously warned that giving patients their own cash pots to pay directly for national health services might “undermine some of the fundamental principles of the NHS and their very existence appears at odds with the workings of the system”.