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Health and social care rights

Explains your rights to health and social care for your mental health. Includes information on eligibility for social care and how local authorities may meet your needs.

What's healthcare?

Healthcare means the services provided to you to maintain and improve your health. This involves preventing, diagnosing and treating mental and physical illnesses, diseases and injuries.

Healthcare provided by the NHS is free at the point of delivery to UK residents, apart from certain things. For example, dental care and eye tests. In Wales prescriptions are also free. In England prescriptions are free for some, but others have to pay for them. If you live in England, check the NHS website to see if you're entitled to free prescriptions.

Who provides healthcare?

Healthcare is provided by the NHS or by private providers. This includes:

  • GPs
  • Hospital doctors
  • Nurses (for example, community mental health nurses, district nurses or practice nurses)
  • Clinical psychologists
  • Psychiatrists
  • Occupational therapists
  • Speech and language therapists
  • Dentists and opticians

What are primary, secondary and tertiary care?

The NHS is divided into three different types of healthcare:

  1. Primary care is often the first point of contact for people in need of healthcare. It's provided by professionals such as GPs, dentists and pharmacists.
  2. Secondary care is services which generally will need a referral from a GP. Secondary mental health services include hospitals, some psychological wellbeing services, community mental health teams (CMHTs), crisis resolution and home treatment teams (CRHTs). Assertive outreach teams and early intervention teams are also secondary services.
  3. Tertiary care is highly specialised treatment. For example, secure forensic mental health services.

Where's healthcare provided?

Healthcare can be provided in various locations, for example:

See our pages on seeking help for a mental health problem for more information on how to access healthcare.

This information was published in February 2023. We will revise it in 2026.  

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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