NHS personal health budgets spent on holidays and horse riding
Thousands of pounds from NHS "personal health budgets" are spent on "treats" such as holidays and clothes, a Freedom of Information request has found.
Pulse magazine said money had also gone on horse riding, art classes, massage, and, in one case, a summer house.
The budgets were brought in to give people in England with long-term conditions more control and choice over their healthcare and support.
NHS England said all spending had to be agreed with the health service.
Patients decide with medical professionals how the money from their personal budget should be spent.
It can be used on services such as therapies to help with depression, and assistance with personal care such as dressing and washing.
Pulse, a magazine for GPs, used the Freedom of Information Act to find out how personal health budgets were spent in England in 2014-15.
Full responses were obtained from 33 clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) out of 209.
- In Northamptonshire, £2.55m was spent on personal health budgets for 161 patients, including on a sat-nav, new clothes, and the construction of a summer house so one patient could have "their own space"
- In Cornwall, £267,000 was spent on five people, including £2,080 on aromatherapy, £248 on horse riding and £7 on hiring pedalos
- In Stoke-on-Trent, £114,000 was spent between 115 patients, including money for a Wii Fit computer game and more than £1,000 on music lessons
- The highest spend per patient was found in West Sussex, where £2.6m was divided among 44 people
The British Medical Association said it continued to have real reservations about the scheme and "the inappropriate use of scarce NHS money on non-evidence based therapies".
Dr Richard Vautrey, deputy chairman of its general practitioners' committee, said: "While individuals may themselves value a massage or summer house, others will understandably start to question why they can't also have such things paid for by the state - and that will just fuel demand."
Nigel Praities, editor of Pulse, said readers of the magazine had reacted to the story with "dismay".
He said: "Doctors have to follow the evidence, they have to make sure everything they do is effective. To see in other areas of the NHS money maybe being spent on things that doesn't have such evidence behind it, particularly at a time when the NHS is trying to save lots of money, is hard to swallow."
Mr Praities added that the problem with the funding was that it "may give a lot of choice to a small number of patients but actually, overall, it might actually reduce choice".
Simon Duffy, from The Centre for Welfare Reform think tank which came up with the idea of personal health budgets, said the money is meant to be spent in less conventional ways.
"There would have been no advantage in people carrying on spending the money exactly as the NHS used to spend the money."
He said personal health budgets made up a tiny percentage of NHS spending and was assessed and approved by health professionals.
"You cannot simply turn up to your GP and ask for a summer house."
Malcolm Royle's family decided a care home would not be right for him after he developed dementia symptoms in 2005.
They used a personal care budget of £46,000 to devise their own care plan, which allowed him to live at home until he died in April.
One of the items they bought him was a Sky+ box.
Mr Royle's son, Colin, said: "It might seem quite an unusual item to purchase with NHS money but it was a great success and the outcomes were terrific.
"We were able to record all of his favourite television programme and play them at times of day that suited him as well.
"We could also fast forward adverts. These caused him a lot of anxiety."
He added the Sky+ box had ultimately helped to "stimulate" his father and reduce his anxieties.
'Quality of life'
A spokesman for NHS England said: "Personal health budgets are designed to meet identified health needs in ways that give patients more control over the care and support they receive.
"The spending must be agreed between the individual and the NHS, meet the patient's individual health needs and achieve the desired outcomes.
"An independent evaluation has shown that personal health budgets are cost effective, help people manage their health and improve quality of life."