Voluntary patients

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


Can I get treatment if I'm a voluntary patient?

Yes – you have the right to get treatment for your mental health problem. As with any type of in-patient stay, you can discuss your treatment plan with your responsible clinician. You have the right to get treatment for other physical health problems, just as you would have in the community.

It is really important that you have regular physical health checks, because people with severe mental illnesses are more likely to develop preventable conditions like diabetes and heart disease. Sometimes healthcare professionals think that physical health problems are symptoms of a mental health problem and the concerns are ignored.

If you are worried about this, you could speak to the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) in your hospital. 

Can I be given treatment against my wishes?

No – you have the right to refuse your treatment, which includes medication that might be prescribed to you. You should discuss your reasons for refusing and what other options you have with your care team.

In order to consent, you must have been given enough information about the proposed treatment, including what it will achieve, possible side effects, what will happen if you’re not given the treatment, and any alternatives.

It can sometimes be difficult speaking to your responsible clinician and getting your views across, so you could find out if an advocate could help you. If you are in Wales, you have the legal right to an IMHA (but if you are in England, you do not have this right unless you are being considered for a treatment to which section 57 or under 18 and being considered for electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) or any other treatment to which section 58A applies). 

It's best to discuss any concerns you have with your responsible clinician before stopping treatment, as some medication can have withdrawal effects if stopped suddenly. To find out more see our information on coming off psychiatric drugs.

You can only be forced to have medical treatment for your mental health problem if you are sectioned under the Mental Health Act. To find out more see our information on sectioning.

This information was published in November 2016. We will revise it in 2018.

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