The government must produce evidence that personal health budgets improve outcomes, cost and patient experience before they are fully rolled out, according to a report.

This comes two days after health secretary Andrew Lansley announced at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester that personal health budgets would be rolled out to 50,000 people with continuing care needs.

Concern about the policy was expressed in today’s report, which follows research by the NHS Confederation’s mental health Network on pilots to give mental health service users control of the money spent on their behalf.

Network director Steve Shrubb told HSJ that while the research focused on budgets for mental health patients rather than those with continuing care needs, the same principles applied.

The report concluded that five tests should be applied to any plans to roll out personal budgets nationally.

Pilots for personal budgets in social care have “demonstrated broadly similar outcomes, comparable costs and a significant improvement in service user experience compared to traditional services,” according to the report. However, pilots of personal budgets in mental health are not expected to produce evidence until April 2012.  The report said local managers and clinicians “will be unlikely to support a roll out without seeing convincing positive data from the pilots first”.

Mr Shrubb said: “The evidence [for personal health budgets] needs to be clearly identified and made available.”

The report also said roll out should be dependent on there being guidance on the expansion of brokerage and advocacy systems, a plan of how funds will be released on a large scale and levers to drive take up.

While it asks: “Have sufficient preparations been made to integrate personal health budgets in the NHS with personal budgets for social care?”

Mr Shrubb said there would be a “significant overlap” which meant some patients would be entitled to personal budgets for more than one need, which would include continuing care. He said: “We can’t have social care and health care personal budgets running in separate ways. The real benefits are when you bring them together.”

Mr Lansley set an April 2014 deadline by when everyone eligible for continuing care will have the right to ask for a personal health budget. Mr Shrubb said the timeline was “realistic”, but only “if they make a real investment now” and meet the criteria set out in the report.