for better mental health

Coronavirus and sectioning

The Coronavirus Act 2020 is a new law to help deal with the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak. It applies across the UK, including in English and Welsh law.

The new Act includes some changes to laws which affect the rights of people with mental health problems.

This information is about legal changes introduced by the new Act which may affect how the Mental Health Act 1983 works in England and Wales. It includes information about how sectioning might be affected. The information on this page is for adults. 

It covers:

When will the changes apply?

The changes introduced by the Coronavirus Act 2020 will only apply for a certain period of time, known as the 'emergency period'.

There are different emergency periods for different areas of the law affected by the new Act.

There are specific provisions for the Mental Health Review Tribunal for Wales which have already started.

The emergency period for the Mental Health Act 1983 has not yet started. We don't know when that might happen, or if it will happen at all.

So the information currently on this page is about changes that may apply in the future, except for the changes to the Mental Health Review Tribunal for Wales, which are already in force.

This information will be updated when more guidance about these legal changes is available from the Government.

What are the changes?

Section 2 is used to assess whether you have a mental health problem and need treatment. It can be used to detain you in hospital for up to 28 days.

Outside the emergency period, an approved mental health professional (AMHP) will make the application for you to be detained based on recommendations from two doctors. One of the doctors should specialise in mental health and one should ideally know you.

During the emergency period, the AMHP will be allowed to detain you under section 2 with a recommendation from just one doctor, in certain circumstances. The doctor should specialise in mental health but doesn't have to know you.

The AMHP will be able to do this if they think that is it not practical to get recommendations from two medical professionals, or if doing this would involve an undesirable delay. They will have to justify this on the admission forms for your detention.

See our information on being assessed to find out more about how these assessments work outside the emergency period. You can also find out more about section 2 from our information on what the different sections mean.

Section 3 is used to detain you in hospital to give you treatment. It can be used for up to 6 months, and can be renewed.

Outside the emergency period, an approved mental health professional (AMHP) will make the application based on recommendations from two doctors. One of the doctors should specialise in mental health and one should ideally know you.

During the emergency period, the AMHP will be allowed to detain you under section 3 with a recommendation from just one doctor, in certain circumstances. The doctor should specialise in mental health but doesn't have to know you.

The AMHP will be able to do this if they think that is it not practical to get recommendations from two medical professionals, or if doing this would involve an undesirable delay. They will have to justify this on the admission forms for your detention.

See our information on being assessed to find out more about how these assessments work outside the emergency period. You can also find out more about section 3 from our information on what the different sections mean.

Section 5 holding powers can be used to keep you in hospital if you want to leave but your care team wants time to decide whether to section you. The team can use these powers if you are already in hospital, for example as a voluntary patient. These powers aren't relevant if you are in hospital because you have already been sectioned.

Sectioning should not be used to stop you leaving hospital because of coronavirus. It should be used if they think there's a risk to your health or safety, or for the protection of others.

Outside the emergency period, specially qualified nurses can keep you in hospital for up to 6 hours using these powers. This is to allow time for a doctor to assess whether to keep you in hospital for longer.

During the emergency period, nurses will be able to use the same powers to hold you in hospital for up to 12 hours.

Outside the emergency period, the doctor or approved clinician in charge of your treatment can use these powers to hold you for up to 72 hours.

During the emergency period, the time limit for these holding powers will increase to 120 hours. And the person who uses these powers doesn't have to be the doctor or approved clinician in charge of your care, if this is impractical or would involve undesirable delay. In this case, any doctor or approved clinician can use the holding powers.

If you are held in hospital under section 5 holding powers, you cannot be given any treatment without your consent unless you lack capacity to decide and it's in your best interests to have it.

See our pages on sectioning and leaving hospital as a voluntary patient for more information about holding powers and how they are normally used.

Outside the emergency period, if you are detained under section for 3 months or more, you can only be given medication if: 

The SOAD also has to consult two other medical professionals who are involved in your treatment before they can approve the treatment. For example, these could be nurses, psychologists or pharmacists involved in your treatment.

During the emergency period, the approved clinician in charge of your treatment will be allowed to certify treatment without consent in certain circumstances. They can do this if they think it is impractical or would involve undesirable delay for a SOAD to do this.

A doctor or approved clinician may also be allowed to consult just one other medical professional if they consider that consulting with two other medical professionals is impractical or would involve undesirable delay.

See our page on treatment without consent for more information about how this works outside the emergency period.

Sections 135 and 136 allow the police to take you to a place of safety, or keep you at a place of safety, so that a mental health assessment can be done.

Outside the emergency period, you can be kept for up to 24 hours at the place of safety. This can be extended for an extra 12 hours if it was not possible to assess you in that time.

During the emergency period, the standard time limit will increase from 24 hours to 36 hours. It will still be possible to extend this by an extra 12 hours.

See our page on sections 135 and 136 for more information about how this works outside the emergency period.

Part 3 of the Mental Health Act 1983 relates to prisoners and immigration detainees being transferred to hospital, and patients going through the court.

There are various changes relating to Part 3 in the new Coronavirus Act, including changes to the amount of time (or 'timescale') allowed for your transfer to hospital.

These changes may be relevant to you, depending on your circumstances:

If you are on remand from court to hospital for a report or treatment

  • outside the emergency period, the maximum time you can be sent to hospital is normally 12 weeks.
  • during the emergency period, this maximum time limit will be removed, so there will be no time limit.

If you are a prisoner

  • outside the emergency period, you should normally be transferred to hospital within 14 days
  • during the emergency period, this could be extended to 28 days.

Changes to timescales for specific sections

For these sections:

  • Section 35(9) (including as applied by section 36(8)) (remand in hospital)
  • Section 40(1) and (3) (effect of hospital orders and interim hospital orders)
  • Section 45B(1) (effect of hospital directions and limitation directions)

the timescales for transferring or admitting a person to hospital within a specified period have been amended by the new Act.

Hospital transfers for people under these sections should be done within the standard timescale normally allowed for that section.

But during the emergency period, this timescale can be extended beyond the standard time period, as long as it finishes as soon as is practicable after the end of that period.

Part 3 of the Mental Health Act 1983 relates to prisoners and immigration detainees being transferred to hospital, and patients going through the court.

There are various changes relating to Part 3 in the new Coronavirus Act, including changes to the number of medical professionals whose recommendation is required to send you to hospital.

The new Act allows for a person to be detained under some sections with just one medical recommendation during the emergency period.

This is allowed if it is impractical or would involve undesirable delay to have two medical recommendations, which is the usual requirement outside the emergency period.

This change applies for the following sections:

  • Section 36(1) (power to remand accused person to hospital for treatment)
  • Section 37(1) (power to order detention in hospital, or guardianship, of convicted person)
  • Section 38(1) (power to order interim detention of convicted person in hospital pending final hospital order or other disposal)
  • Section 45A(3) (power to direct that a person sentenced to imprisonment be detained in hospital instead of prison)
  • Section 51(5) (power to order detention of a person in hospital in the absence of the person)
  • Section 47(1) or 48(1) (removal of prisoners to hospital).

See our pages on the courts and mental health for more information about how this works outside the emergency period.

The Mental Health Tribunal is a panel which you have a right to apply to, so that you can be discharged from your section. The tribunal system is different in England and Wales, although they have the same powers.

Outside the emergency period, the panel is normally made up of three members.

The new Act allows for some changes to how this panel works, if you are in Wales:

If you are in Wales

Please note – the changes to the Mental Health Review Tribunal for Wales are already in force. Some of the other information on this page is about changes which may take place in the future. But the changes explained here apply right now.

The new Act allows for tribunals in Wales to be changed to either one or two tribunal members. This is allowed if the President (or someone on her behalf) considers that it is impractical or would involve undesirable delay for the Tribunal to be made up of at least three members. One member of the panel must always be a legal professional. This person must be the chair of the panel.

The Tribunal can determine a case without a hearing if it considers that:

  • holding a hearing is impractical or would involve undesirable delay
  • depending on complexity of the issues in the case, the Tribunal has enough evidence to make a decision without a hearing, and
  • doing so would not negatively affect the health of the patient (including their mental health).

The new Act also allows the President of the Welsh Tribunals to nominate another legal member of the Tribunal to act as the temporary deputy if the President of the Mental Health Tribunal for Wales (MHRT) is temporarily unable to discharge the functions of the office.

If you are in England

There is already a power in England to change the composition of the tribunal, so the new Act doesn't affect this in England.

See our pages on leaving hospital for more information about tribunals, and how they work outside the emergency period.

Further support

This information was published on 6 April 2020. 

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