The Royal College of General Practitioners wants to put the brakes on the planned roll-out of personal health budgets, as despite supporting the principle it still has concerns over implementation and potential for inequalities. 

Pilot schemes involving around half the primary care trusts in England are currently underway to test out personal health budgets - whereby patients are allocated an amount of money to use for their own care in a way that best suits them - in the NHS, results of which are expected alter this year.

The government has already said, however, said that personal health budgets will be available to patients getting continuing care by 2014 and all others eligible the year after. 

According to the RCGP's position paper, while it believes that personal health budgets could bring "significant benefits in personalised care" and involve patients shared decision-making for some patients, their implementation "poses challenges that have not yet been addressed by the government".

In a letter to Care Services Minister Paul Burstow, it asks the government to address the risks it has outlined before the budgets are rolled out.

The Committee says there are issues surrounding the "appropriate balance of responsibilities for ensuring the clinical effectiveness and quality of services purchased", as well as how the impact of the introduction of personal health budgets on Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) costs and on the financial sustainability of existing NHS services will be managed.

In addition, it says the setting of appropriate budgets "must be in line with the principle of the provision of comprehensive health services on the basis of clinical need, free at the point of use", and it also stressed that the government must ensure that personal health budgets do not throw up new health inequalities.

Backing personalised care

“We believe very strongly in the importance of each patient having personalised care and an opportunity to be involved in making decisions in partnership with their GP," said RCGP Vice-Chair, Professor Nigel Mathers. 

“Personal health budgets could potentially realise great benefits for our patients – but we want the government to work with us to ensure that it gets the policy framework for implementation right and that the lessons from the pilot sites are learnt, [and] we also need to be convinced that any potential risks have been mitigated,” he stressed.