Healthcare battle for direct payments could be over at last


A woman who lost a legal battle for the right to use direct payments to manage her long-term condition has welcomed a new pilot project that should allow her to continue controlling how her healthcare is provided.

Valerie Garnham was one of two disabled people who were forced to drop a court case against the government earlier this year.

Garnham, from Islington, north London, and Steven Harrison, from Yorkshire, argued that the government acted unlawfully and breached their human rights by not allowing them to manage their continuing healthcare through direct payments.

But they had to drop their appeal when the Department of Health said new laws which would only allow direct payments for healthcare through official pilot schemes were to come into force the day before their case was to be heard.

This week, the government announced the first eight primary care trusts (PCTs) – including Islington – that will take part in the pilot schemes to “road test” direct payments for personal health budgets. More trusts are expected to join the scheme later this year.

PCTs that take part will be able to give money directly to individuals, allowing them to decide how they receive their healthcare, in partnership with the local NHS.

Garnham has been receiving direct payments from Islington PCT for several years, but two years ago the PCT told her she would have to receive her healthcare through an agency, because of new government guidance.

Garnham welcomed this week’s announcement and said she was keen to work with the PCT to make the pilot scheme a success. She said the pilots should give her and other disabled people “choice and self-autonomy”, and save money.

She added: “I do feel it’s a victory. [Our court case] highlighted the situation and brought it to public notice.”

Her solicitor, Frances Lipman, from Disability Law Service, welcomed the new pilots, and said: “Islington have always been cooperative and wanted Valerie to have a direct payment, but just felt constrained by the legislation. It is good news that PCTs like Islington are keen to make it work.”

She said Garnham had proved that direct payments for continuing healthcare could work.

Lipman has encouraged other disabled people to press their PCTs to take part in the pilot scheme.

Islington PCT welcomed the announcement, but said it was too early to confirm who would be taking part in its pilot, which will be smaller than others given the go-ahead by the government.

Paul Burstow, the Liberal Democrat care services minister, said: “There is strong evidence from the social care sector that direct payments help achieve better outcomes, and give people more choice and control over the care they receive.”

He said the new programme would “stop healthcare from slipping back to the days of one-dimensional, like-it-or-lump-it services”.

30 June 2010

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