The idea of partnerships and collaboration across organisational boundaries is not new in the NHS in England, but it is reaching a zenith in policymakers’ minds. The 2017–19 planning guidance for the NHS put it simply: partnership behaviours are becoming ‘the new norm’ and ‘What makes most sense for patients, communities and the taxpayer should always trump the narrower interests of individual organisations.’

This idea underpins the sustainability and transformation partnerships and the new models of care set out in the Five year forward view for the NHS in England. It also builds on the experience of initiatives that have been tried over the past decade, ranging from new forms of organisational links (eg buddying and franchises) to building networks and communities of practitioners to help improve health service delivery.

The Health Foundation has contributed to developing the evidence base for networks – for example, by funding programmes to help clinical communities improve quality of care in specific areas of practice, reviewing how to develop and manage effective networks to support quality improvement, and developing Q, a connected community of people who have improvement expertise from across the UK.

But less is known about what makes for successful partnerships between providers at an organisational level. For this reason, the Health Foundation commissioned the Health Services Management Centre (HSMC) at the University of Birmingham to look at a range of current organisational partnerships, and draw some tentative learning to help inform and guide both policymakers and providers.

This briefing by the Health Foundation and HSMC summarises the main findings of the research report and what providers and policymakers can learn. The research report, Partnering for improvement: inter-organisational developments in the NHS, is available at