Mental Health Act

The Mental Health Act

The Mental Health Act is the law governing the compulsory treatment of certain people who have a mental disorder. 

Sometimes a person with a mental illness might not be able, or willing, to be involved in decisions about their treatment because of their illness. If without this treatment there is thought to be a risk to the person's health or safety or the safety of others the Mental Health Act is used to ensure they receive the necessary care.

The Mental Health Act represents a careful balance between the individual rights of patients and society’s responsibility to protect them and other people from the harm which a mental disorder can cause.

We're committed to protecting the rights of our patients and service users who are subject to the Mental Health Act.

Some of the ways we ensure the Act is being used in the best and most appropriate way include:

  • Regularly reviewing our Mental Health Act processes and procedures 
  • Auditing our use of the Act and the documentation of every patient subject to it 
  • Providing training for staff to ensure that the care and treatment they provide is compliant with the Mental Health Act Law and Code of Practice  
  • We have a team of Mental Health Act Administrators who process the necessary supporting documents and forms to ensure that correct procedures are followed  
  • We employ Mental Health Act Review Managers who are independent of the Trust, they use a range of skills and experience to carry out reviews on behalf of the Hospital Managers. These reviews ensure the Act is appropriately and responsibly applied in individual cases. 

If your loved one has been detained, they will have to stay in hospital until the doctors or a mental health tribunal decide otherwise.

You still have the right to visit. Visiting arrangements depend on the hospital, so check visiting hours with our staff. 

In some cases the patient may refuse visitors, and hospital staff will respect the patient's wishes. If you're unable to see your relative, staff should explain why. With permission from your relative, doctors may discuss the treatment plan with you. You can also raise concerns or worries with the doctors and nurses on the ward.

For more information:

Under the Mental Health Act, there is a special role for a patient’s family member.  This role is called the ‘Nearest Relative’.  The Act contains rules and a list for how the Nearest Relative is selected.  This is different from the Next of Kin which the patient can choose. 

The Nearest Relative has certain rights under the Act.  Some of these rights are ‘qualified’, meaning that the rights of the patient will come first.  A good example of this is information about the patient’s detention under the Act.  If the patient does not consent, Southern Health is not permitted to share information about the patient’s detention with the Nearest Relative.  We know this can be difficult for Nearest Relatives and families to work with; all of our teams appreciate this and will do their best to support you if your loved one makes this choice.

In emergencies

An emergency is when someone seems to be at serious risk of harming themselves or others. Police have powers to enter your home, if need be by force, under a Section 135 warrant. You may then be taken to a place of safety for an assessment by an approved mental health professional and a doctor. You can be kept there until the assessment is completed, for up to 24 hours.

If the police find you in a public place and you appear to have a mental disorder and are in need of immediate care or control, they can take you to a place of safety (usually a hospital or sometimes the police station) and detain you there under Section 136. You'll then be assessed by an approved mental health professional and a doctor. You can be kept there until the assessment is completed, for up to 24 hours.


In most non-emergency cases, family members, a GP, carer or other professionals may voice concerns about your mental health. They should discuss this with you, and together you should make a decision about what help you may need, such as making an appointment with your GP to discuss further options.

But there may be times when there are sufficient concerns about your mental health and your ability to make use of the help offered. In these circumstances your relatives or the professionals involved in your care can ask for a formal assessment of your mental health through the Mental Health Act process.

Your nearest relative has the right to ask the local approved mental health professional service, which may be run by local social care services, for an assessment under the Mental Health Act. It's also possible for a court to consider using the Mental Health Act in some circumstances, or for a transfer to a hospital to take place from prison. As part of this formal process, you'll be assessed by doctors and an approved mental health professional. One of the doctors must be specially certified as having particular experience in the assessment or treatment of mental illness.

The length of time you could be detained for depends on the type of mental health condition you have and your personal circumstances at the time.

You could be detained for:

  • up to 28 days under Section 2 of the Mental Health Act
  • up to 6 months under Section 3 of the Mental Health Act, with further renewals

During these periods, assessments will be regularly carried out by the doctor in charge of your care to determine whether it's safe for you to be discharged and what further treatment is required, if any.

You should always be given information about your rights under the Mental Health Act.

Going on leave from the hospital should form an important part of your care as you recover. This means that while detained under the Mental Health Act, you may be able to leave the hospital if authorised by the doctor or clinician in charge of your care (also known as the responsible clinician).

This leave is often referred to as "section 17 leave", as it's Section 17 of the Mental Health Act that allows this leave. The responsible clinician in charge of your care can place conditions on the leave, such as where you should stay while away from the hospital and whether this will be for a fixed period of time.

You should be given a copy of the Section 17 leave form that sets out these conditions so you're clear what they are. The responsible clinician can revoke your leave and make you come back to hospital at any time.

If you do not return to the hospital at the end of the leave period, you can be made to go back to the hospital.

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