Care planning and coordination is at the heart of effective mental health service delivery and is increasingly required to be personalised and focused on recovery, yet there has been little research conducted that explores these key aspects.

To find out more about how community mental health care was planned and coordinated, the research team from City University London, Swansea and Cardiff universities – conducted a cross-national comparative study involving six NHS sites in England and Wales that included a survey of 449 service users and 201 care coordinators. They also conducted interviews with 117 managers, practitioners, service users and carers.

A key feature of the study is that we worked with people who have experience of using mental health services as co-researchers on this project so that our research approach was meaningful to people who actually use services.

The project yielded three key findings; firstly, we found that people using mental health services place substantial value on the quality of their relationships with staff in contrast to the value placed on written care plans, and although care plans are vital documents for managers and professionals, service users rarely return to them once they are complete.

A second significant finding relates to risk. Our study showed that workers are acutely aware of the need to assess and manage risk, but that they do not routinely discuss this part of their work with service users or their families. This is a missed opportunity to learn, and to share responsibility.

Thirdly, the study revealed that care coordinators saw care plans as a useful record but also as an inflexible administrative burden that restricted time with service users.

This study has highlighted the need to find new ways to maximise therapeutic time with service users and staff at the same time seeking ways to reduce the administrative burden of preparing lengthy care documents.  We also need to identify a method of addressing risk that is inclusive of service users and their families.

I’m very pleased to have had the opportunity to be part of a team involving colleagues from City University London and Cardiff University.

Our collaboration is continuing to achieve exciting new evidence on how mental health services are experienced and delivered. Together with research projects we are currently running here at Swansea we hope to see this new evidence lead to positive changes for people with mental health problems.

The research is published in Health Services and Delivery Research.

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