IMHSA has campaigned on the need to discontinue the use of unaccountable block contracts in mental health commissioning in order to improve patient access to mental healthcare.

IMHSA believes that unaccountable block contracts are a significant barrier to efficient commissioning. While some block contracts can provide efficient access to services for patients and stability for providers, the continued use of unaccountable, ill-defined block contracts by mental health commissioners is detrimental to patient access to mental health services.

These unaccountable block contracts restrict innovation, efficiency and patient choice, and concentrate provision in limited areas. This prevents patients from accessing the vital care they need in a timely manner, as well as preventing patients already receiving care from moving down the care pathway to more appropriate care settings.

Under a block contract, a provider is paid a lump sum fee to offer services for a specific patient population for a fixed amount of time, usually a year. This means that other providers are unable to offer services to that population, even if they can offer a service that better meets local patient needs or provides better value for money. This is ultimately to the detriment of patient access to care.

NHS England stated that block contracts would be phased out by mid-2014, however many are still in place. IMHSA is calling for the phased discontinuation of unaccountable block contracts. We believe this will remove a significant obstacle in the commissioning process, thereby improving patient access to much-needed mental health services.

Read our block contracts policy document, published October 2015