Tens of thousands of patients will be able to get cash from their doctors for "personal health budgets" which can be used for activities including singing lessons and other hobbies, it has been announced.
Patients will have access to the budgets which give them more choice and control over the care they receive, care and support minister Norman Lamb said.
Ministers have decided to roll the scheme out after a successful pilot. During this, one patient who suffered from depression used the budget to pay for a therapist and to begin a dress-making hobby. Another who suffered from chronic lung disease used the money for singing lessons.
A male patient with motor neurone disease used his personal budget for a modified bicycle and a gym membership. Other patients used the scheme to employ carers to look after them at home.
The budgets will allow patients to have more control over the treatment they receive instead of simply getting care set out by the NHS. Patients will be able to access the budgets through their local NHS. They will have to work with clinicians to decide how the money would best be spent to benefit their health.
Ministers are investing £1.5 million in the hope that by 2014, it will be available to 56,000 people on the NHS Continuing Healthcare scheme - an initiative for patients who suffer from complex medical conditions who require a lot of care and support.
"Independent analysis has now shown that personal health budgets can put people back in control of their care and make a significant difference to their quality of life," Mr Lamb said. "It's inspiring to hear the human stories of success that these budgets have brought to people. The evaluation shows that those with the greatest needs benefit most from personal health budgets. That's why we are giving people on NHS Continuing Healthcare the chance to get one first. And, I hope more people who could benefit will be given the option of one."
Charity In Control pioneered the concept of personal budgets in social care. Julie Stansfield, chief executive officer of In Control said: "We are extremely pleased, as we know many families will be, to see such strong evidence that enabling people to self-direct their health support via personal health budgets is making a positive difference.
"Over the past four years, we have worked with NHS staff across the country promoting and developing self-directed support and personal budgets. Through these pilots we have seen a variety of people receive a personal budget and witnessed what a positive difference this has made to their lives. This is a fantastic achievement and it is welcome news that, very importantly, there are plans to expand the use of personal health budgets, regardless of the condition and logically, dependent on the level of need."
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) raised concerns that the budgets could "exacerbate" health care inequalities. RCN chief executive Dr Peter Carter said: "While we are not opposed to people being given a choice in how their care is provided and by who, we still believe that there may be unintended consequences caused by the extension of the use of personal health budgets. In particular, we are concerned that providing these budgets may exacerbate inequalities by giving the best care to those able to argue for it, and it may place vulnerable people at risk."