Patients given control of their own health budgets need more information about the size of their funds and how they can be spent, a Department of Health report has found.
Earlier this month health secretary Andrew Lansley announced personal health budgets would be rolled out to 50,000 people eligible for Continuing Healthcare, a package of NHS-funded care provided outside of hospital.
An interim report published this week looked at pilots being run across the country for people with long-term conditions, stroke patients and mental health service users, as well as those eligible for NHS Continuing Healthcare.
“Virtually all” of those interviewed for the report said they were “sufficiently involved in deciding how to use their personal health budget,” the report said.
However, “few interviewees” knew the level of their budget before they began planning how to use it. “This diverges fundamentally from the principles underpinning personal health budgets,” the report said.
It added: “Ignorance of the level of the budget meant that care/support plans risked being based on incorrect assumptions; a few interviewees would have made different choices, had they known the level of the budget at the time they planned its use.”
It said more information was “essential” to the care planning process.
“As personal health budgets become more widespread, clarity about their interface with social care personal budgets will also become important,” the report added.
The report listed examples of uses of the budgets, including services like cognitive behavioural therapy and physiotherapy as well as more unusual purchases like laptop computers, musical instruments and family holidays.
Some patients had been encouraged to think of a wide range of ways to spend the money while others were not aware of the flexibility that was permitted, it said. It recommended giving patients written lists providing “general information and specific examples from people in similar situations”.