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Explains the rights that you have if you are sectioned and detained in hospital under the Mental Health Act 1983.
If you are sectioned and detained in hospital, you have the following rights:
While you are in hospital, you also have the right to ask for and be told information, such as:
Everything happened very quickly and she doesn’t know anything about her rights, or what to expect, or how long she might have to stay in hospital. No one has been to visit her and she has not been able to phone anyone. She thinks she was given some information on the first day, but can’t find it.
She tells the ward staff that she needs some help to find things out about her situation. A nurse says she will try and get an independent mental health advocate independent mental health advocate (IMHA) to help her. When Adena sees the IMHA, she helps her to:
Petra wants to get out of hospital because she thinks she should not have been sectioned. She has read the information she was given when she came into hospital.
She asks to see an IMHA, who explains about Petra’s right to go to a Mental Health Tribunal to have her section lifted. As Petra is on a section 2, she will have to apply within the first 14 days. Petra realises she has the right to a mental health solicitor for the tribunal hearing for free, but she has to find one quickly. Her IMHA helps her to find details of a suitable solicitor, who agrees to come and see her on the ward.
Eli has been in hospital under a section 3 for 2 weeks. He finds out that his family has been to visit him but were told that they could not see him. After a few days some friends rang the ward to see if it was okay to visit him, but were told this wasn’t a good idea at the moment.
Eli feels very angry that he wasn’t told about this and can’t understand why his friends and family were not allowed to visit him. He wants to complain about it and to find out what is going on.
If you want to find out the reasons why you have been sectioned, you can:
Toni is sectioned and is in hospital. She feels that the medication she is on is very strong and has a lot of side effects. It sometimes makes her feel dizzy and sick, and that the world is a bit unreal. She wonders whether anything can be done about it, like reducing the dose she is on.
She asks the ward staff if she can speak to her responsible clinician about it. They tell her when the responsible clinician will be coming, and whether it would be possible to ask her to come the next day.
Teri has asked to see her section papers and thinks that they are not correct. They say that before she was sectioned, she was found shouting and screaming in the middle of a busy road. She thinks this is an exaggeration of what actually happened.
She discusses the situation with her IMHA and whether she should complain about it. Her IMHA agrees to get her information about the complaints procedure, and to ask the AMHP who assessed her if she will come and see her. She also offers to help her to see her medical records.
When you first come into hospital, you will probably not be allowed to leave the ward while you are under section. The Mental Health Act gives the nursing staff and other health professionals the power to keep you on a locked ward.
If you have a good reason for wanting to leave the ward, you can ask your responsible clinician for permission to do this.
Sometimes you might be able to leave the ward accompanied by a member or members of the hospital staff – this is called escorted leave. But the hospital does not have a legal duty to agree to this. They may refuse you leave if they consider you or someone else would be at risk if you left the ward on your own.
If you are going to be on leave from hospital for more than 7 days, your responsible clinician should consider whether to use a community treatment order instead.
Lina’s daughter is going to be eight years old next week. She does not understand why she can’t see Lina on her birthday. Lina asks her responsible clinician if she can have leave from the ward so that she can go home and see her daughter. Her responsible clinician says she can, as long as her partner stays with her all the time, and brings Lina back to the ward in the evening.
If you are sectioned under sections 2, 3, 37 and certain other sections of the Mental Health Act, and your treatment is for your mental health problem and prescribed by your responsible clinician, legally it may be given to you without your consent. This may still happen even if you physically resist being given the treatment.
If you are sectioned under sections 4, 5, 35, 135 and 136, or you are under Mental Health Act guardianship or conditional discharge, you have the right to refuse treatment for your mental health problem, but you may be given treatment in an emergency.
See our information on consent to treatment to find out more.
It may not be possible to challenge the health professionals' opinion during the time that you are being sectioned.
But once you have been sectioned and are in hospital, there are several ways of getting discharged:
If you want to challenge the fact that you have been sectioned at all, you will need to go to the High Court (not the Mental Health Tribunal), and show:
For more information see our pages on leaving hospital.
Yes, your independent mental health advocate can help you to make a complaint. You can complain to the hospital or their regulator which is the Care Quality Commission (in England) or the Healthcare Inspectorate (in Wales).
For more information see our pages on complaining about health and social care.
When you are no longer under a section and leave hospital, you have the following rights:
In Wales, voluntary patients can also have an IMHA.See our full list of legal terms.
This is a special court that deals with cases relating to the Mental Health Act 1983. The Tribunal decides whether you can be discharged from your section and can sometimes make recommendations about matters such as hospital leave, transfer to another hospital, guardianship and community treatment orders (CTOs).
The court is made of a panel, which normally includes:
Where you see a reference to the Mental Health Tribunal in this guide, it means:
Being 'sectioned' means that you are kept in hospital under the Mental Health Act. 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.
See our pages on sectioning for more information.See our full list of legal terms.
This is where you are discharged from hospital but will have to follow some conditions, such as living at a particular place or meeting healthcare professionals. If you break these conditions, you can be recalled to hospital.
You will only be put under a conditional discharge if you have been:
This is where someone called a ‘guardian’ is appointed instead of being sectioned and kept in hospital. Your guardian could be a person or a local authority.
You can only be placed under guardianship if it’s necessary for your welfare or to protect other people. Your guardian has the power to make certain decisions about you and to make conditions that you will be asked to keep to, such as where you live.
Guardianship lasts for up to six months and can be renewed: initially for a further six months, and then for a year at a time. You can appeal to the Mental Health Tribunal once in each of these periods.See our full list of legal terms.
Certain decisions, such as applying for someone who is sectioned to go onto a community treatment order (CTO), can only be taken by the responsible clinician.
All responsible clinicians must be approved clinicians. They do not have to be a doctor, but in practice many of them are.See our full list of legal terms.
This is a law that applies to England and Wales which allows people to be detained in hospital (sectioned) if they have a mental health disorder and need treatment. You can only be kept in hospital if certain conditions are met.
See our pages on the Mental Health Act for more information.See our full list of legal terms.
If you have been sectioned and treated in hospital under certain sections, your responsible clinician can put you on a CTO. This means that you can be discharged from the section and leave hospital, but you might have to meet certain conditions such as living in a certain place, or going somewhere for medical treatment. Sometimes, if you don't follow the conditions or you become unwell, you can be returned to hospital.
See our pages on CTOs for more information.See our full list of legal terms.
AMHPs are mental health professionals who have been approved by a local social services authority to carry out duties under the Mental Health Act. They are responsible for coordinating your assessment and admission to hospital if you are sectioned.
They may be:
Hospital managers are an independent team of people in a hospital who make sure that the requirements of the Mental Health Act are properly applied. They have certain important responsibilities and can make decisions related to your detention.
In practice, most of the day-to-day decisions are taken by individuals authorised by the hospital managers to do so. This can include hospital staff. Decisions about discharge are normally delegated to a team of people who are independent of the hospital. You can apply to them to be discharged from your section and they will decide whether or not to discharge you.See our full list of legal terms.
The nearest relative is a family member who has certain responsibilities and powers if you are detained in hospital under the Mental Health Act. These include the right to information and to discharge in some situations.
The law sets out a list to decide who will be your nearest relative. This can sometimes be changed.
See our pages on the nearest relative for more information.See our full list of legal terms.
This tells health professionals how they should follow the Mental Health Act. It is not law, so it cannot be enforced by going to court, but health professionals should follow it unless there is a good reason not to.
The Code covers some areas not specifically mentioned in the Mental Health Act, such as visiting rights and the use of seclusion.
If a health professional doesn’t follow the Code, you can make a complaint.See our full list of legal terms.
This information was published in September 2017. We will revise it in 2019.
References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.