The German mental health care system differs significantly from the system in the UK. There is no central organisation with overall responsibility as in the National Health Service (NHS), and the government is not entitled to prescribe details of policy or set specific targets. It can only determine the legal framework, define general goals and, with difficulties, influence the spending level. Responsibilities for mental health care, as for other fields of health care, are shared between federal authorities, the 16 states (Lander), local authorities, and semi-statutory organisations, which govern out-patient health care provided by psychiatrists in office-based practices. Virtually every citizen is health-insured and there is free access to health care for those who have no insurance coverage, in which case social services usually cover the costs. Social services also directly fund various services in the community. The fragmented system can be difficult to comprehend. However, many of the challenges are similar to those in other countries, and policy makers and practitioners elsewhere might be interested to know some of the lessons learnt in the German system.