Measuring outcomes is a direct way to improve the quality and accountability of services. It can help us to improve our understanding of the impact of services on people's lives. Those who use services and carers need reassurance that treatments and care provided are producing results for them as individuals, and that outcomes are continuously monitored.

Measuring outcomes is a direct way to improve the quality and accountability of services. It can help us to improve our understanding of the impact of services on people's lives. Those who use services and carers need reassurance that treatments and care provided are producing results for them as individuals, and that outcomes are continuously monitored.

Measuring outcomes includes collecting information. But at its heart it is a long-term activity, involving important cultural changes in working practices for practitioners and managers at all levels.Carers, practitioners, people using services, managers and those working nationally all play an important part in making sure outcomes are routinely measured.

What measuring outcomes can achieve

Measuring outcomes helps service users, carers and clinicians talk to each other. By going through a process of reflection, action and review informed by that dialogue, clinical teams are able to improve the treatment and care they provide.

Information about outcomes helps managers understand the effectiveness of service delivery. In the long term, data can be brought together to provide a national picture and steer the delivery of service redesign and improvement.

Nationally, this may have a direct impact on the delivery of other programmes of work such as improvement in black and minority ethnic mental health provision, the mental health choice agenda and the payment by results programme.

The National Institute for Mental Health in England's outcomes project

NIMHE's outcomes project, which sits within the Care Services Improvement Partnership, includes a range of national and regional work to help local services routinely measure health and care outcomes. The project covers people of all ages and in a range of settings. We are using a phased approach, and at present are focusing particularly on secondary care. Our intention is that people with direct experience of using services and carers are involved in all areas of our work.

A national steering group has been set up to oversee the project. We are continuing to develop the group and build links with people who use services and carers, a range of practitioners, colleagues from policy, national inspection agencies and the voluntary sector, as well as CSIP staff.

At a national level, our main aims are to raise awareness about measuring outcomes, share learning, and address common practical issues for services across the country. At a regional level, we have worked in partnership with development centres to organise events to raise awareness and begin discussions about local implementation support.

Margaret Oates is outcomes measures project manager at CSIP