The focus of mental health care has seen a significant shift from institutional care to community based care and has been well described (Thornicroft & Bebbington, 1989). This shift has necessitated the development of new and flexible models for ensuring that patients' needs are met. Mental health professionals have to operate across a wide range of community contexts dealing with a complex range of needs. Intensive Case Management (ICM) also known as Assertive Community Treatment is a model of service provision to the long term mentally ill in the community. The Programme of Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) developed by Stein & Test (1980) in the United States has a number of Key elements (figure 1).
ACT-based ICM is unusual in that it has been extensively researched (principally in the United States of America), and programmes are relatively well described. Such descriptions, especially of programmes outside America, often focus on underlying principals and philosophies and do little to measure practice. Teague et al. (1995), however, devised clear criteria for measuring practice components and McGrew et al. (1994) asked ACT “experts” to rate the “key” elements of PACT and related a number of these to levels of hospital use. In the United Kingdom, Thornicroft (1991) listed twelve axes for describing the central practice characteristics of case management (a broad concept including ICM). These UK ‘practice characteristics’ also focus more on macro-level programme description rather than on the practices of programme staff. There is a pressing need for research into exactly what teams do.