Abstract General ideas about joint working have been commonplace in the UK for several decades and those more specifically about joint commissioning have been popular since the quasi-market reforms of the early 1990s. The Labour Government is now placing a heavy premium upon ‘partnership working’ and expects this to breathe new life into joint commissioning initiatives; especially those involving social care and primary health care. However, despite the relatively lengthy experience of joint commissioning, we still know very little about how it works in practice. This article reviews joint commissioning as a policy concept, describes some recent research findings and pulls out messages for policy and practice. It concludes that although effective joint commissioning is attainable, there can be no ‘quick fix’ at local level.