Sectioning

Explains the rights that you have if you are sectioned and detained in hospital under the Mental Health Act 1983. Applies to England and Wales.

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About sectioning

What does sectioning mean?

If you are sectioned, this means that you are kept in hospital under the Mental Health Act 1983. There are different types of sections, each with different rules to keep you in hospital. The length of time that you can be kept in hospital depends on which section you are detained under.

What will happen to you once you are sectioned depends on which section you are detained under, your specific mental health problem and need for care and treatment, and your personal circumstances.

When can I be sectioned?

You may be sectioned where someone has raised concerns about your mental health and has contacted your local social services or local community mental health team.

This person could be:

  • a health professional, such as your GP
  • a member of your family or someone else you know
  • your nearest relative
  • your psychiatrist

You should only be sectioned if:

  • you need to be assessed and treated for your mental health problem urgently
  • your health would be at serious risk of getting worse if you did not get treatment quickly
  • your safety or someone else’s safety would be at serious risk if you did not get treatment quickly
  • your doctor thinks you need to be assessed and treated in hospital, for example if you need to be monitored very regularly because you have to take new or very powerful medication. Otherwise, you may be asked to attend a hospital out-patient clinic.

Before you can be lawfully sectioned, you will need to be assessed by health professionals, to make sure that it is necessary.

Example

Kenneth has schizophrenia and has had repeated hospital admissions since he was in his 20s.

He has recently been acting irrationally and out of character; he seems unable to look after himself. It turns out he has not taken his mental health medication for several months.

He seems to have lost a lot of weight, but when food is offered to him he gets irritated saying “I told you, I‘m not hungry”, and just pushes it away. He has become forgetful and doesn’t seem aware of everyday dangers any more, and a few times has wandered into the path of traffic on a busy road.

His wife thinks that he may need medical treatment urgently otherwise his health and safety will be at risk.

What do the different sections mean?

There are different types of sections, each with different rules to keep you in hospital.

The three main sections you can be detained under are section 2, section 3 and section 4.

Section What this section means How long you can be kept under section
2

You can be detained if:

  • you have a mental disorder
  • you need to be detained for a short time for assessment and possibly medical treatment, and
  • it is necessary for your own health or safety or for the protection of other people

Up to 28 days.

The section can’t normally be extended or renewed, but you may be assessed before the end of the 28 days to see if sectioning under section 3 is needed.

3

You can be detained if:

  • you have a mental disorder
  • you need to be detained for your own health or safety or for the protection of other people, and
  • treatment can’t be given unless you are detained in hospital

You cannot be sectioned under this section unless the doctors also agree that appropriate treatment is available for you.

Up to 6 months.

The section can be renewed or extended by your responsible clinician:

  • for 6 months, the first time
  • then for 6 months, the second time
  • after that, for 12 month periods. There is no limit to the number of times the responsible clinician can renew the section 3.

Your responsible clinician can also discharge you from your section before it comes to an end. If this happens, you are free to go home.

If your mental health got worse again in the future, you could be sectioned and taken to hospital again, as a mental health team would assess you and make a decision then.

4

You need to be detained if:

  • you have a mental disorder
  • it is urgently necessary for you to be admitted to hospital and detained, and
  • waiting for a second doctor to confirm that you need to be admitted to hospital would cause “undesirable delay”

You can be sectioned by one doctor only (together with the approved mental health professional) and you can be taken to hospital in an emergency and assessed there.

Please note: your rights under section 4 are different compared to your rights under other sections.

 Up to 72 hours.

Other sections

This table explains the Mental Health Act sections that are used most often.

Section

What this section means

How long you can be kept under section

5(2)

Applies to you if you are a voluntary patient or inpatient (including inpatients being treated for a physical problem).

A doctor or other approved clinician in charge of your treatment needs to report to the hospital managers that an application to keep you in hospital (a detention section) ‘ought to be made’.

Up to 72 hours.

5(4)

Applies if you are a voluntary patient receiving treatment for a mental disorder. A nurse specially qualified and trained to work with mental health problems or learning disabilities can detain you if they think that your mental health problem is so serious that:

  • you need to be kept in hospital immediately for your health or safety or for the protection of others, and
  • it is so urgent that it is not practicable to get a practitioner or clinician to provide a report to the hospital managers

Up to 6 hours, or until a doctor or clinician with authority to detain you arrives, whichever is earlier.

7

This section deals with guardianship. To find out more, see our information on community care and aftercare.

 

17

Applies if you are already detained under the Mental Health Act. This section gives the responsible clinician power to grant you leave for a specified period of time from the ward and the hospital.

You are likely to be asked to keep to certain conditions, such as returning on a certain day or at a certain time, or staying at a particular place or in the care of a particular person.

 

26 and 29

These sections deal with the nearest relative.

  • Section 26 sets out who your nearest relative will be.
  • Section 29 tells you the grounds under which you can change your nearest relative.

See our information on the nearest relative.

 

35

Applies if you are a person accused of a crime in criminal proceedings. The Crown Court or Magistrates’ Court can remand you to hospital if one doctor has evidence that:

  • there is reason to suspect that you have a mental disorder, and
  • it would be impracticable for a report on your mental condition to be made if you were remanded on bail

Up to 28 days, renewable for further periods of 28 days to a maximum of 12 weeks in total.

37

Under this section, you can be sent to hospital for treatment.

The Crown Court can make a hospital order before or after you have been convicted of a crime. The Magistrates’ Court can only make a hospital order when you have been convicted of an offence that could be punished with a prison sentence.

The court makes a hospital order on evidence from two doctors that:

  • you have a mental disorder of a nature or degree that makes detention for medical treatment appropriate
  • appropriate medical treatment is available for you, and
  • a hospital order is the most suitable option for you, after taking into account all the relevant circumstances (including your past history and character and other methods of dealing with your mental health problem that might be available to the court)

Up to 6 months, and then can be renewed for a further 6 months, and then for 1 year at a time.

41

If the Crown Court has made a hospital order under section 37, it can also impose a ‘restriction order’, which means that it will be harder for you to get the tribunal to discharge you from hospital and you may have to keep to conditions.

The Court will make a restriction order if it thinks it is necessary to protect the public from serious harm.

No fixed time limit.

47

The Ministry of Justice can order you to be transferred from prison to hospital for treatment of your mental health problems.                                                                                                                           

Up to 6 months, renewable for a second 6 months, and then 1 year at a time.

49

If the Ministry of Justice has ordered you to be transferred from prison to hospital under section 47, at the same time it can also impose a ‘restriction direction’ on you under section 49. This means that you can only be discharged from hospital with permission from the Secretary of State for Justice. 

Until the end of the section 47 or the date when you should be released from prison.

117

Health authorities and local social services have a legal duty to provide free aftercare for people who have been detained under Mental Health Act sections 3, 37, 47 or 48, but who have left hospital. The duty to provide aftercare also applies if you are under a community treatment order.  Aftercare services in the aftercare plan should be provided free of charge.

 

135

You can be placed under this section if there is reasonable cause to suspect that you have a mental disorder and you are:

A magistrate can issue a warrant authorising a police officer (with a doctor and an approved mental health professional) to enter any premises where you are believed to be and take you to a place of safety.

Up to 72 hours.

136

If it appears to a police officer that you as a person in a public place are “suffering from mental disorder” and are “in need of immediate care or control”, he or she can take you to a place of safety.

You will be kept in hospital, or the place of safety you were taken to, so that you can be examined by a doctor and interviewed by an approved mental health professional and any necessary arrangements can be made for your treatment or care.

Up to 72 hours.

Do I have to be sectioned to get treatment in hospital?

No, you can agree to go into hospital in the normal way. You can be referred by your GP or your psychiatrist. You will then be an informal or voluntary patient and have the same rights as patients getting treatment for other health problems: see our information on the Mental Health Act.

 


This information was published in January 2015. We will revise it in 2017.


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