A pilot scheme testing the feasibility of personal health budgets has been given a further £4 million injection by the government, mirroring the funds dished out last year by Labour, Care Services Minister Paul Burstow has announced.

The Department of Health revealed earlier this year that eight pilot projects in primary care trusts across the country will give patients with conditions such as stroke or diabetes direct payments to enable them to make their own decisions on how, when and where they receive their healthcare, and today announced that a ninth - Hull PCT - has now joined the pack.

Pilot schemes in which personal health budgets are held by the PCT or another third party are also under way, but all have the over-riding aim of creating a much more personalised health system in which patients can use their very own pot of money budgets to elect different elements of care, such as choosing alternative methods of pain relief like hydrotherapy over conventional analgesics, for instance.

“We want to give people more choice and influence over their healthcare - giving them direct control of the cash is a powerful way of achieving this,” Burstow said. “The evidence from social care has shown that people tend to spend less on better things for themselves. Proving that individuals can actually be better guardians of the public purse than institutions, while at the same time ensuring services suit people’s individual needs,” he added.

However, not everyone is so enamoured with the principle. The British Medical Association has previously said that giving patients their budgets to pay directly for national health services could potentially “undermine some of the fundamental principles of the NHS and their very existence appears at odds with the workings of the system”.

While enabling patients to better meet their own healthcare needs has the potential of creating a more equitable health service, the scheme could also open up yet another route by which patients could receive different levels of care, “raising significant equity concerns”, it argues.