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Personal budget worries raised

Mental health service users are unsure of the potential of personal budgets to improve their care, according to a report published by the NHS Confederation’s Mental Health Network yesterday.

The Confederation generally supports the move to personal budgets, which involves recipients of social care getting a set ‘budget’ from their local authority to spend on their own care, following an assessment of their needs, instead of it just being provided to them. The idea has had a mixed reception in many council areas, as it has sometimes gone hand-in-hand with facilities like day centres being closed down as budgets are re-directed straight to care service users. Other people, however, have said they find it very helpful to make their own decisions on their care.

The NHS Confederation report, based on an in-depth analysis and interviews with service users, highlights several issues that need to be addressed.

Many patients are confused about what personal budgets actually are, and how they will integrate with other existing social care budgets. At the time of the review, only a minority of users asked said they would choose to take them up. Concerns included health inequalities, support for the budgets, changing patient needs and the required level of transparency.

Director of the NHS Confederation’s Mental Health network, Steve Shrub, said: “We think personal budgets can be a really powerful tool to improve services. But they will only work if both clinicians and service users - not simply policy makers - are convinced they will.

“We must therefore be realistic about how quickly we implement personal budgets because it will involve some really significant challenges. Otherwise there is a risk we will ruin good policy with poor implementation.

“We need to show service users that they will be supported properly so this is not just another policy initiative that over promises and under delivers. We also need to bring clinicians fully on side by providing a robust evidence base.

We can solve these problems by extending the evaluation period until 2015 and looking closely at what that work says rather than simply using it to inform further roll out. We also think it is important to begin a programme of professional engagement.”

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