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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 are my healthcare treatment rights?

You have certain rights about the healthcare treatment you receive for your physical or mental health:

  • Being free from discrimination. People or organisations providing healthcare aren't allowed to discriminate against you based on protected characteristics. For example, your age, disability, gender, race or religion. To find out more, see our pages on disability discrimination.
  • Getting information about your treatment. When you're using NHS services, the healthcare professionals and staff must explain things to you in a way that you can understand. You have a right to information about your treatment and local health services.
  • Seeing your medical records. You have a right to see your medical records. The only exception is where showing them to you would be likely to cause mental or physical harm to you or another person. To find out more, see our pages on accessing your personal information.
  • Giving consent before receiving treatment. You have to give your consent (to say 'yes') before any healthcare professional can examine or treat you. They should explain what the treatment is and if there are any risks involved. You also have the right to refuse treatment (to say 'no'). But you can be treated without your consent in certain situations. For example:
    • Certain situations when you've been detained under the Mental Health Act (see our legal pages on agreeing to treatment)
    • When your life is in danger, you're unconscious and you can't explain what you want
    • When you don't have the capacity to make a decision about your treatment and the medical professionals believe that treatment is in your best interests (see our legal pages on agreeing to treatment)

In Wales, you have certain rights to healthcare for your mental health:

  • You must be offered a primary mental health assessment if a GP or general practice worker believes that you'd benefit from it. This is a detailed mental health assessment. It's used to find out whether local primary mental health treatment or another local service might improve your mental health, or prevent it from getting worse.
  • You shouldn't have to wait more than 28 days for an assessment. After the assessment, you should be offered short-term help if this is appropriate. This might be counsellingcognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), solution-focused therapy, family work, online support, stress management, bibliotherapy (therapy involving books) or education. It could be offered individually or through group work. If it seems like a referral to secondary services would be useful, then this should be made for you.
  • In Wales, you must be given a care coordinator and a care treatment plan if you receive secondary mental health services. For more information, see our pages on leaving hospital.
  • You can re-refer yourself for a secondary mental health assessment if you're over 18 and not currently receiving secondary mental health care. If you've received secondary mental health care in the last three years, you have a right to re-refer yourself for a further mental health assessment without seeing your GP first. The assessment should identify what secondary mental health services, or other services, might improve your mental health. This assessment should be carried out within a reasonable time. What's considered reasonable ill depend on how urgent your needs are, but you should be assessed within 28 days.

If you feel that your healthcare rights haven't been respected, then you can make a complaint about this. See our legal pages on complaining about health and social care for more information.

What choices can I make about my primary care?

Primary care services (like your GP) are your first point of contact in the healthcare system if you're seeking support for your physical or mental health. You have the right to make certain choices about the primary care you receive.

  • You have the right to choose which GP practice you register with. You can also choose which doctor or nurse to see at that practice. In England, you also have the right to choose to have web and video consultations.
  • If you think your GP has refused to accept you because of a disability, including a mental health condition, this could be discrimination. To find out more, see our pages on disability discrimination.
  • You can register with a GP practice if you're homeless, vulnerably housed or 'of no fixed abode'. You can also register if you’re an asylum seeker, a refugee or an overseas visitor, whether you’re lawfully in the UK or not. You don't need to prove identity, address, immigration status or an NHS number to register as a patient. GPs have no contractual requirement to request this. The NHS page on how to register with a GP surgery has information which may help.

Exception – the practice doesn't have to accept you if its register is full. Or if it doesn't accept patients who live outside of its catchment area. You may not be able to see the doctor or nurse you have chosen if they're on leave, or if you require an urgent appointment.

What choices can I make about my secondary care? (England only)

You’ll generally need a referral from a GP to access secondary care services. For example, hospitals or community mental health teams (CMHTs).

In England, you have the right to make certain choices about the secondary care you receive. For example:

  • Choosing your mental health provider and team. If you need to be referred to a consultant or a mental healthcare professional, you have the right to choose where to go for your first appointment. You can choose any organisation that provides clinically appropriate care, and which clinical team will provide your treatment.

Exceptions – you don't have the right to choose if you're:

  • Already receiving mental health care from a team because of a referral you asked your GP to make
  • A prisoner or detained in an immigration removal centre
  • Detained (sectioned) under the Mental Health Act 1983
  • A serving member of the armed forces
  • Someone who has been referred to services commissioned or provided by local authorities. For example, a drug and alcohol service
  • Receiving crisis care for your mental health
  • Changing hospital. You have the right to ask to change hospital if you have to wait longer than the maximum waiting times. This is currently 18 weeks for anything other than specialist cancer treatment. If you need to see a consultant and your treatment isn't urgent, you can ask to be referred to a different hospital if you have to wait more than 18 weeks before starting treatment.

The 18-week waiting time runs from the day that the hospital receives your referral letter. Or the day your appointment is booked through the NHS e-Referral Service. Some people may have to wait longer than 18 weeks if demand for services is high.

Exceptions – you don't have the right to ask to be referred to a different hospital if:

  • The services you are using aren't led by a consultant
  • You choose to wait longer for your treatment
  • Delaying the start of the treatment is in your best interest (for example, if you first need to lose weight or give up smoking)
  • Your treatment is no longer necessary


Geoff has a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and visits his GP to be referred for treatment. Geoff's friend has the same diagnosis and told him that she's been treated by a consultant psychiatrist who has been very helpful to her.

Geoff discusses this with his GP, who uses the NHS e-Referral Service to search for this consultant psychiatrist and find out where she works. Geoff's GP creates a list for him and gives him log-in details for the service.

At home, Geoff logs into the e-Referral Service and researches the various organisations the psychiatrist works at. He selects one which is fairly close to his home and books an appointment.

Geoff will be treated by his chosen health care specialist, or a member of her team, at the organisation and location of his choice.

For tips on how to be more involved in any decisions about your healthcare treatment, see our pages on making sense of your options and being actively involved.

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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