for better mental health

Sectioning

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

The UK Government has made emergency changes to the law and introduced new regulations to help manage coronavirus (Covid-19). This includes changes which may affect you if you are sectioned under the Mental Health Act 1983.
See our legal pages on coronavirus and sectioning to find out what the new laws might mean for you. You can also read about Mind's response to the Coronavirus Act 2020.

How am I assessed?

Before you can be lawfully sectioned, a team of health professionals will be sent out to assess you. This may happen at home or in hospital, or in a place of safety.

The team of health professionals would normally be:

When they arrive, the AMHP should explain who they are and why you are being assessed. They should also carry some identification so you know who they are.

The approved mental health professional will interview you

The AMHP will then interview you so that they can decide if keeping you in hospital is the best way of providing the care and treatment you need. The two doctors must also agree with this.

The doctors will assess you

The doctors may ask to examine you physically, as well as assessing your mental health. This may happen on the same day as the AMHP assessment, or on a different day, but it should happen within a few days. The two doctors may also have to examine you at different times.

Being assessed during coronavirus

If you are assessed in England during the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak, you might see one or more of the health professionals over a video callAt least one mental health professional should be there in person, although this might not always be possible.

Before deciding whether you can be assessed over a video call, the professionals will need to think about:

  • your symptoms and any complex needs you have
  • whether a video assessment might cause you unnecessary distress
  • whether they can make any changes to the way you are assessed over the video call to make it a fairer experience for you.

 

Video calls should only be used for assessment if:

  1. there is a significant risk that assessing you face to face will mean you or the professionals could catch Covid 19, AND
  2. there is a significant risk of harm to yourself or others if you are not assessed quickly and receive the support you need, AND
  3. various quality standards and safeguards are met.

 

The quality standards and safeguards that should be met include:

  • an appropriate place is available to do a video call
  • the internet connection is consistent
  • the technology for the video call is secure
  • the professionals can see you clearly over video
  • you have been given accessible information about the process so you can understand what is likely to happen
  • your views about using video calls have been taken into account
  • where possible, you have been given the chance to have a family member or advocate present
  • if you need an interpreter or support with communication, this is available and is effective over video
  • if you find it harder to communicate over video (like if you have autism or a learning difficulty), changes are made to the process to help you.

 

Video assessments must not be recorded.

The decision of whether to section you will be made

The AMHP will decide whether to go ahead with the application to section you, and give you reasons for the decision. They should also tell this to:

  • your nearest relative
  • the doctors who have assessed you
  • your care coordinator, if you have one
  • your GP, if they were not involved in the assessment.

For most sections this must take place within 14 days, but if you are put on a section 4, you must be admitted within 24 hours.

There will not always be a gap between assessment and admission. If a suitable bed is available, you may be admitted very soon after assessment. What happens in the interval depends on where you are and your circumstances when you are assessed. The AMHP should explain what will happen.

The doctors who assess you will generally be responsible for finding you a place in a suitable hospital.

If the decision is to take you to hospital

  • You will be taken there as soon as possible after your assessment. This could be immediately after your assessment, or at some later time.
  • The AMHP should have already made arrangements for the immediate care of any children or anyone else you are caring for. The same applies if you have any pets. Arrangements should also be made to make your home secure if no one is going to be there when you are taken to hospital.
  • You should be able to take things you need for your time in hospital. They should have space on the ward for your possession. They should have storage for things that you don’t need to keep with you.
  • The hospital managers, or the officer they have appointed, will check your sectioning papers in hospital to see they have been filled in properly. Once this happens, you are lawfully detained in hospital.

What questions will I be asked?

During your assessment, you will be asked questions about:

  • Your mental health and your general health. This includes how your mental health problem is making you feel, how you are coping with the symptoms and whether these make it difficult for you to look after yourself properly.
  • If you are acting in a way that harms your health, such as self-harming or neglecting yourself.
  • Your situation at home. This includes what support you have at home, whether you are coping with your daily routine and whether anyone else is relying on you for their care.
  • Any medication you are on, including how you are getting on with it and whether you are taking it regularly.

The health professionals will also want to find out if:

  • your health or safety is at risk because of your mental health. They will also consider whether other people may be at risk if your mental health gets worse.

What are my rights while I am being assessed?

  • You can have someone present with you. You can ask for a friend, family member or advocate to be with you during your assessment. This may help to make sure your views are listened to.
  • You can ask to speak to the AMHP alone, but they have the right to have another professional present.
  • The Mental Health Act Code of Practice should be followed. The health professionals should follow the rules and guidance in the Mental Health Act Code of Practice. This says that all the facts relevant to you should be taken into consideration, and any possible alternatives to sectioning should be discussed with you (though in an emergency situation this may not be possible).
  • The approved mental health professional doesn't have to follow the doctors' recommendations. Even if the AMHP has the doctors' recommendations to support the application to section you, they don't have to make the application. They can think about whether this would be the best way of getting you the care and treatment you need at the time.
  • Your individual situation should be taken into consideration. The AMHP should consider your age, gender, social background and sexual orientation, and how any disability you may have affects the way the assessment needs to be carried out. For example, this might include thinking about whether you need a Sign Language interpreter to follow what is going on.
  • You have the right to an interpreter. If your first language is not English and you need an interpreter, ask the AMHP to arrange this.
  • You have the right to ask questions and express your views, but the Mental Health Act 1983 says that the health professionals do not always have to follow your views.
  • You should be kept fully informed. The health professionals should keep you fully informed of what is happening, and should answer any specific questions you may have. Health information on your records can only be kept from you if it is likely to cause serious harm to you or someone else.
  • You have the right to not answer questions. No one can force you to answer questions or to talk to the health professionals. But they can still make decisions about you, such as whether to section you, even if you decide not to answer.

Your rights during coronavirus

These rights all apply to remote assessments as well as face to face assessments. But how they work in practice might be a little different. For example, your friend or advocate might be present in the video call, but not with you in person.

Example

Emma decides not to tell the AMHP about her self-harming and that she has a mental health history and was treated for it in the past. She is afraid she is more likely to be sectioned if she does. The AMHP has to accept that Emma will not tell her, although he may try to find out some other way.

Emma can still be sectioned, even though she does not give the AMHP all the information he asks for.

This information was published in July 2020. We will revise it in 2023.

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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