Under the Mental Health Act 1983 a person can be ‘sectioned’, meaning that they can legally be detained for compulsory assessment or treatment for a mental health problem.
Who can be sectioned under the Act?
If someone is experiencing severe mental distress; posing a risk of danger either to themselves or to someone else; and refusing to accept help or treatment, then the powers granted under the Mental Health Act can be applied to them. Under the act, people with ‘severe mental impairment’, ‘psychopathic disorder’ or ‘mental illness’ can be admitted to hospital.
In what circumstances can someone be sectioned?
In order to section a patient, two doctors (one usually being a psychiatrist and one being a doctor that knows the patient well) and a social worker or close relative of the patient must state that it is necessary to do so.
It is possible that only one doctor may give the order for a patient to be sectioned if it is deemed a matter of emergency. If everyone is in agreement that sectioning is in the patient’s best interest, then an approved social worker will usually make an application for a place in secure accommodation for the patient.
Sectioning a patient enables doctors to reduce or eliminate the risk of a patient causing harm to himself or others, assess the extent of the patient’s mental disorder and, if necessary, administer treatment.
How long can patients be sectioned?
Section 2 of the Act gives healthcare professionals the power to detain someone for up to 28 days if it is agreed that the patient is suffering from a mental disorder warranting medical care and attention.
Under Section 3 of the Act, an application can be made for the patient to be detained for longer (initially for six months) if it is considered necessary for treatment. Under this section, the mental disorder that the person is suffering from, and any proposed course of treatment, must be specified.
Section 4 of the Act covers emergency cases, and enables one doctor to detain the patient for up to 72 hours.
Do detained patients have any rights?
The rights of detained patients vary under different sections of the Act. A leaflet outlining a patient’s rights (in line with the section they have been detained under) should be provided. If it is believed that a particular type of treatment is vital to prevent the patient’s condition worsening while they are in hospital then this can be provided without their consent under some part of the Act.
However, an additional court order is required for some, more powerful treatments, including any operations that damage brain tissue and the surgical implantation of sex hormones to reduce the male sex drive.
Patients should be allocated a named ‘responsible medical officer’ to monitor their progress. The patient can also appeal to the NHS Trust that is detaining them for their release. The ‘nearest relative’ has a right to order the discharge of the patient. However, if doctors provide sufficient evidence that the patient still poses a threat to the public or him or herself, they can prevent this.
There is a right of appeal to the Mental Health Review tribunal, which, after a formal hearing, can order the patient’s discharge.
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