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

What are my rights when I am in hospital?

If you are sectioned and detained in hospital, you have the following rights:

  • Get leaflets with information when you arrive on the ward. If you are not given any leaflets straight away, you can ask the ward manager or a senior member of your care staff, or your independent mental health advocate (IMHA), to get them for you.
  • Appeal against your section to the Mental Health Tribunal.
  • See your sectioning papers. If you are not given a copy, and would like to see them, you should ask the ward staff or your IMHA to help you get them. You should be given these as a paper copy, although you may also be able to have an electronic copy emailed to you.
  • Get help and support from an IMHA. They can help you understand the effects of your sectioning, or complain about anything that has happened while you are in hospital.
  • See a copy of the Mental Health Act Code of Practice.
  • Ask for a meeting with the hospital managers.
  • Complain to the Care Quality Commission or, if you are in Wales, to the Healthcare Inspectorate.
  • Correspondence from your solicitor and other people and to have visitors.
  • Some telephone access.
  • Vote. You still have the right to vote if you are sectioned (unless you were sent to hospital by a criminal court, or transferred from prison).

    To vote, you must register on the electoral register as living either at your hospital address or at a recent home address. To do this you must apply to your local council. You cannot vote unless you are registered under an address where your local council can send you information about how and where to vote.

    Once you have registered, you can also ask your local council for a postal vote, or you may be able to get permission to leave the hospital to vote, either accompanied by hospital staff or on your own.

    Alternatively, you can have someone you can trust to vote on your behalf, called 'voting by proxy'.

Asking for information

While you are in hospital, you also have the right to ask for and be told information, such as:

Example 1

Adena came into hospital a few days ago under a section 2. She has never been sectioned before.

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:

  • find a telephone to tell her friends what has happened
  • get her the written information about her rights

Example 2

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.

Example 3

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.

An IMHA goes through the options for complaining. He decides he would like to have a meeting with the hospital managers, and she helps him arrange this.

Can I find out more information on why I've been sectioned?

If you want to find out the reasons why you have been sectioned, you can:

  • Look at your medical notes and records. You could ask your IMHA to help you do this. To find out how to make a request to the hospital authorities to see your records, see our page on accessing your personal information.
  • Ask your responsible clinician. Your responsible clinician should answer your questions about your mental health and your treatment honestly. They should also give you information about any medication you are made to take. This includes information about any side effects, why they have decided this treatment is the most suitable treatment for your mental health problem, how long the treatment might take and how long you might have to stay in hospital. If they say you have behaved in a way that has posed a risk to yourself or others, or has harmed your health, ask them to be specific about what behaviour they are talking about.
  • Discuss your situation with ward staff. They might be able to explain what is written in your medical notes. You can also ask about anything that happens on the ward, such as ward rounds, how often your responsible clinician will come to see you and whether any other professionals will want to talk to you.

Example 1

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.

Example 2

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.

Can I leave the ward?

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 want to leave the ward, you can ask your responsible clinician for permission to do this.

  • You can ask them when they come to see you on a ward round or, if it is urgent, you could ask the ward staff to let them know that you need to see them because you need an answer urgently.
  • Section 17 of the Mental Health Act says that they can allow you to leave the ward or the hospital for short periods of time, but they may ask you to keep to certain conditions, such as returning within a certain time.
  • You will need to explain your reasons for wanting leave. If they need you to put any of the details in writing or they need to speak to anyone else about your leave, such as your family, carer or another professional, they should tell you 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.

Can I still leave the ward during coronavirus?

Hospitals should still be able to grant people leave from hospital during the coronavirus outbreak.

But staff might need to:

  • limit the amount of leave you have
  • ask you to go at different times to other patients.

If they think that you might not be able to comply with public health advice (like social distancing), they could temporarily stop your leave.


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 your section is lifted, and you stay in hospital as a voluntary patient, your rights to leave the ward will change: see our information voluntary patients.

Can I refuse treatment?

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.

Can I challenge my section?

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:

  • Ask your responsible clinician to discharge you.
  • Ask your hospital managers to consider discharging you.
  • Ask your nearest relative to discharge you.
  • Apply to the Mental Health Tribunal to be 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:

  • specific reasons why you should not have been sectioned
  • medical evidence for your opinion.

For more information see our pages on leaving hospital.

Can I make a complaint about how I've been treated in 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.

What are my rights after I leave hospital?

When you are no longer under a section and leave hospital, you have the following rights:

  • The right to be free from discrimination because of your mental health history and to take action if this happens – see our information on disability discrimination to find out your rights under the Equality Act.
  • The right to vote, as long as you are well enough to decide between candidates, and you are registered on your local council's electoral register at your home address or another address.
  • The right to travel abroad. You have the right to travel out of the UK, but some countries have restrictions on accepting people with a history of mental health problems. This is because the Equality Act, which protects you from discrimination in the UK, does not apply abroad. Each country will have different rules on this. So you will have to check with the embassy of the country you are planning to visit whether you will have trouble getting a visa and whether they are likely to ask for information about your mental health history.
  • The right to drive. You have the right to drive, but if you are diagnosed with certain severe mental health conditions and taking certain types of medication, your driving licence may be temporarily suspended. For more information, visit the DVLA website and see our information on fitness to drive.

Aftercare services or care plans

You should be told if have the right to aftercare services after you leave hospital, and whether these are likely to be free. This conversation should happen before you leave hospital. 

Or you may have a care plan with a right to the services on the care plan. But this may be means-tested, so you might be asked to contribute something towards your services. You should be invited to discuss your care plan.

See our pages on leaving hospital for more information.

This information was published in July 2020.

This page is currently under review. All content was accurate when published. 

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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