Voluntary patients

Explains your rights if you are having treatment in hospital as a voluntary patient. Applies to England and Wales.


If you want to get treatment for your mental health problem as a voluntary patient, you or someone caring for you might have questions about your rights.

Quick facts

  • You are a voluntary patient (sometimes called an 'informal patient') if you are having in-patient treatment in a psychiatric hospital of your own free will.
  • Being a voluntary patient is different to being sectioned under the Mental Health Act. Being sectioned is where you are kept in hospital even if you do not want to go and receive treatment. See our information on sectioning to find out more.
  • As a voluntary patient, you have the right to get treatment for your mental health problem, as well as physical health problems. You also have the right to refuse treatment you don’t want. You can leave the hospital when you want, but you are still expected to take part in your treatment plan.
  • Some hospitals will have rules about what you can and can’t do on the ward. But if the rules are too restrictive and unnecessary, it could breach the Human Rights Act.
  • You would only be sectioned if the care team is worried about the risks to yourself or others if you leave the ward.
  • If you need support from different people, you should be given community care under the Care Programme Approach in England or the Care and Treatment Planning in Wales.

Please note

  • This guide only covers voluntary patients from the point of view of a person with a mental health problem.
  • This guide applies to England and Wales.
  • This guide contains general legal information, not legal advice. We recommend you get advice from a specialist legal adviser or solicitor who will help you with your specific situation and needs. See Useful contacts for more information.
  • The legal information in this guide does not apply to children unless specifically stated.


This information was published in June 2018. We will revise it in 2020.

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