The commissioning and provision of healthcare, including mental health services, must be consistent with ethical principles – which can be summarised as being “fair”, irrespective of the method chosen to deliver care. They must also provide value to both patients and society in general. Value may be defined as the ratio of patient health outcomes to the cost of service across the whole care pathway. Particularly in difficult times, it is essential to keep an open mind as to how this might be best achieved. National and regional policies will necessarily vary as they reflect diverse local histories, cultures, needs and preferences. As systems of commissioning and delivering mental health care vary from country to country, there is the opportunity to learn from others. In the future international comparisons may help identify policies and systems that can work across nations and regions. However a persistent problem is the lack of clear evidence over cost and quality delivered by different local or national models. The best informed economists, when asked about the international evidence do not provide clear answers, stating that it depends how you measure cost and quality, the national governance model and the level of resources. The UK has a centrally managed system funded by general taxation, known as the National Health Service (NHS). Since 2010, the UK’s new Coalition* government has responded by further reforming the system of purchasing and providing NHS services – aiming to strengthen choice and competition between providers on the basis of quality and outcomes as well as price. Although the present coalition government’s intention is to maintain a tax-funded system, free at the point of delivery, introducing market-style purchasing and provider-side reforms to encompass all of these bring new risks, whilst not pursuing reforms of a system in crisis is also seen to carry risks. Competition might bring efficiency, but may weaken cooperation between providers, and transparency too. On the other hand, it is hard to implement necessary governance and control without worsening bureaucracy and inefficiency. The pursuit of market efficiencies has been particularly contentious in men tal health care, where many professionals are defensive about the risks to vulnerable patients and to traditional ways of professional working. Developments and debates in the UK may be instructive for others. We conclude this paper with a set of questions that may help inform debate and evaluation of mental health services internationally.

Key words: Mental-health services, commissioning services, provision of services, UK.

G. Ikkos, Ph. Sugarman, N. Bouras (page 181) - Full article