Should NHS patients be allowed to tailor their own care with personal budgets?
Hundreds of thousands of NHS patients could be given funds to pay for their own healthcare under new government plans.
The scheme would see controversial "personal budgets" rolled out to around 350,000 people in a bid to "put power back in the hands of patients".
Currently just 23,000 NHS users are granted a personal budget, but extending them across the health service is part of the government's long-term funding plan.
The move is designed to allow patients with ongoing illnesses such as mental health problems, dementia or physical and learning difficulties to tailor their own care and treatment.
Funding would come from both the health and social care budgets in a bid to get different aspects of care to work more closely together and alleviate pressure on the emergency services and hospitals.
According to Department of Health data published in 2012, patients with long term conditions made up 50% of all GP appointments, 64% of outpatient appointments and 70% of inpatient bed delays.
Patients could use the personal budget to employ friends or relatives as carers, buy equipment or enrol in activities such as exercise classes to help with their condition.
But critics of the scheme point out the cash can be spent on things like holidays or holistic treatments such as aromatherapy.
Others fear it could lead to the privatisation of the NHS by taking money from existing services.
Minister for Care Caroline Dinenage said: "If you have complex needs our current health and social care system can be confusing so it's right people should be involved in the important decisions about how their care is delivered.
"These changes will put the power back into the hands of patients and their families, potentially allowing up to 350,000 extra people to take up a personal health budget if they so wish.
"This would not only improve quality of life and the care they receive, it will offer good value for money for the taxpayer and reduce pressure on emergency care by joining up health and social care services at a local level."
The plans were first published in a green paper last summer, citing evidence from the pilot programme that personal budgets can help a patient transition from unplanned, emergency care to planned care and that they are more cost effective than conventional services.
The paper added that people with the highest levels of need experienced similar or improved outcomes when using a personal health budget.
The document included the example of a 90-year-old woman who used her personal budget to pay for assistants, osteopathy and respite care for her daughter and husband, allowing her to remain with her family rather than moving to a nursing home.