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Informal patients

Explains your rights if you're having treatment in hospital as an informal patient.

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Under 18? We have information on going into hospital as a young person, and your rights if you’re an informal patient

Can I temporarily leave the hospital?

Yes. As an informal patient you can temporarily leave the ward, including the hospital grounds. But you'll be expected to take part in your treatment plan. This might include creative or leisure activities, as well talking to staff. So you'll need to spend some time on the ward.

You should talk to your care team about how much time they expect you to spend on the ward to make sure that you agree. You may want to go out for an hour, a day, or overnight, so it's important to be clear about how much time you want to spend on the ward.

You'll need to let ward staff know about your plans so that they know where you are. This is for health and safety reasons, for example if there is a fire drill.

Your ward may be locked, so you should be told who you can speak to if you want to leave. You must be able to leave at any time you want to.

What can I do if I don't want to stay in hospital?

You have the right to leave the hospital if you don't want to stay. Your care team must tell you if they believe leaving hospital could put you or others at risk. Or if they're considering stopping you by detaining you under the Mental Health Act.

Health professionals can't threaten to section you to make you agree to treatment, or to stay on the ward if you don't want to.

You may be entitled to support in the community after you leave hospital. It's important to speak to your care team so that they can assess your needs. See our legal pages on health and social care for more information.

Will I be sectioned if I leave the hospital?

It depends – if the care team is worried about the risks to yourself or others if you leave the ward, they may decide to section you.

If that happens, your doctor may keep you on the ward for up to 72 hours while they decide whether you need to be detained and kept in hospital. If a doctor isn't available, a nurse can stop you from leaving the ward for up to 6 hours until one can be reached.

Health professionals can't threaten to detain you under the Mental Health Act to make you agree to stay in hospital. You can only be detained if two doctors and an approved mental health professional (AMHP) agree that:

  • You need to be assessed or treated for your mental health problem in hospital
  • Your health would be at risk of getting worse, or wouldn't get better, if you don't get treatment
  • Your safety or someone else's safety would be at risk if you don't get treatment

To find out more about different sections and what they mean, see our information on sectioning.

Can I get support when I'm discharged?

Yes – if you need support from different people, you should be given community care under the Care Programme Approach (CPA) in England, or the Care and Treatment Planning (CTP) in Wales.

Under the CPA or CTP, your needs should be assessed by your care team. You'll be given a care coordinator who is often a social worker or a nurse. You should be involved in this assessment.

After this assessment, you should receive a care plan that will explain how issues around your care and treatment will be addressed. You should be given a copy of this care plan and it should be regularly reviewed. For more information see our legal pages on health and social care rights.

This information was published in October 2022. We will revise it in 2025.

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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