Patients with long-term conditions such as multiple sclerosis and motor neurone disease could be put in charge of their own NHS budgets to buy treatment.
The idea has emerged from a review by Health Minister Lord Darzi as the Government tries to extend its “choice” agenda.
Tens of thousands of patients with acute conditions, also including diabetes, could receive the individual health budgets.
The plans, disclosed by Health Secretary Alan Johnson, follow a similar scheme to give older people control of their own social care budgets.
The Department of Health stressed that the proposals were at a “very early stage” and that if they were pursued there would be wide consultation first.
Officials dismissed any prospect of cash being “dished out” to patients and said no money would leave the NHS.
The idea has been floated as millions of patients are set to be given the choice of 350 hospitals – public and private – for elective care.
They will be encouraged to choose on the basis of things like location, reputation, MRSA infection rates and waiting times.
Mr Johnson said: “People still think choice is something for the private sector but we want choice for everyone within a world-class NHS.”
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