Norman Lamb said yesterday that we wanted ‘huge chunks’ of NHS care to be accessed by personal health budgets, starting with mental health services.

I asked him how he would deal with the cultural issues in the NHS and told him of my experience at the Kings Fund event, which was full of doctors and other health professionals who were less than impressed with personal budgets. This was best demonstrated when the chair, Kings Fund CEO Chris Ham, helpfully asked for a show of hands on the subject. Even the admirable David Oliver, chair-elect of the RCG, voted against me.

One speaker - the entertainingly combative UCL professor Steve Iliffe - said he thought the concept of personal health budgets was an 'intellectual zombie' - an ‘ideologically-driven dead idea still moving’. The implication was that it needed putting out of its misery.

Norman Lamb was, I think, genuinely shocked to hear these sentiments. He referred to the recent DH evaluation of the pilot programme which concluded that the use of personal health budgets led to ‘significant improvement in the care-related quality of life and psychological well‐being of patients’, and supported the further roll-out of the programme.

What I like about the concept - as with personal budgets in social care - is that they give an individual power to 'integrate' services around themselves rather than being restricted by the decisions of commissioners. (Improve my lung condition? I'll take up singing - which, by the way, will help tackle my isolation, which is contributing to my depression).

This offers a complimentary approach to the structural approaches to integration of health and social care that all political parties now accept are necessary.

Clearly personal heath budgets have their critics. But I’m clear that, in allowing individuals greater choice and control of the services they use, they offer an important route to a transformed NHS.

I guess that makes me a zombie apologist and proud of it.

Share this article

Print this page

Print this page