The purpose of this paper is to explore change within the commissioning of third sector mental health services in England.
A case study methodology based on survey and interview data of a sample of third sector organisations and commissioners within an English conurbation.
Normative commissioning models based on sequential cycles were not fully implemented with the main focus being on the procurement and contracting elements. There were examples of commissioning being an enabler of service improvement but overall it seems to have been limited in its ability to bring about whole system change. Barriers included commissioners’ capacity and competence, ineffectual systems within their organisations, and fragmentation in commissioning processes between user groups, organisations and sectors.
The case study conurbation may not represent practice in all urban areas of England and there may be particular issues of difference within rural localities. The view of private and public sector providers and those working in Commissioning Support Units were not sought.
To lead whole system change the commissioning function needs to be adequately resourced and skilled with better integration across public sector functions and organisations. Greater emphasis needs to be placed on implementing the full commissioning cycle, including the engagement of relevant stakeholders throughout the process and the practical application of outcomes.
This research adds to the limited body of empirical work regarding commissioning in mental health.
The support of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Office of the Third Sector (OTS) and the Barrow Cadbury UK Trust is gratefully acknowledged. The work was part of the programme of the joint ESRC, OTS Barrow Cadbury Third Sector Research Centre.
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