Complaining about NHS mental health services – appealing against detention in hospital

This page tells you how to appeal against detention under the Mental Health Act 1983.

What is a detention under the Mental Health Act 1983?

If you’re admitted to hospital compulsorily, without giving your consent, under the Mental Health Act 1983, you’re called a detained patient or sometimes a sectioned patient.

Asking for a manager’s review

If you think you shouldn’t be a detained patient, you can apply for a Mental Health Act manager’s review. You can apply at any time and as many times as you want. However, they rarely hear an application:

  • within 28 days of a previous review, or
  • if there is a First-tier Tribunal hearing planned – see below.

An Independent Mental Health Advocate -see below – can help you ask for a manager’s review.

Applying to the First-tier Tribunal

What is the First-tier Tribunal?

You can apply for a hearing to the First-tier Tribunal (FTT) if you think you shouldn’t be a detained patient.

The FTT is an independent body. It’s made up of a tribunal judge, a doctor, and a tribunal member with experience of health or social care matters. The FTT must discharge you from detention if, on the day of the hearing, you don’t meet the criteria needed for detention in hospital. Or, depending on the circumstances, they could recommend that you’re given home leave, or transferred to another hospital.

Who can apply to the First-tier Tribunal?

You can apply to the First-tier Tribunal (FTT) if you want to challenge your compulsory detention in hospital. However, if you’ve been admitted to hospital for assessment in an emergency, you can’t apply to the FTT.

How to apply to the First-tier Tribunal

You must make an application to the First-tier Tribunal (FTT) in writing. You can get an application form from the hospital where you’re detained. The staff there have a duty to:

  • support you to apply to the FTT if you want to do this, and
  • send your application in.

An Independent Mental Health Advocate – see below – can also help you to apply to the FTT.

When they get it, the FTT will send a copy of your application to the hospital. They will ask for medical information, and for details of what other services or treatment would be available if you’re discharged. The hospital must provide this information within a certain time limit. You’ll get a copy of the hospital’s reply, unless the hospital considers it to be harmful to your health. A social work report will also be obtained before the hearing.

You can get legal aid to apply to the FTT. It doesn’t depend on your financial circumstances.

Time limits for applications to the First-tier Tribunal

If you’re a ‘Section 2’ patient, that is, someone who is admitted to hospital for assessment, you have 14 days of being admitted to appeal to the FTT. The hearing should be held within seven days.

If you’re a ‘Section 3’ patient, that is, someone who is admitted to hospital for treatment, you can apply to the FTT at any time within the first six months of your admission for treatment, and then again:

  • once during the following six months, and
  • once during each following year in hospital.

The hearing must take place as soon as possible, and should be held within eight weeks.

A patient who is still detained in hospital must have their case referred to the FTT once every three years, or once every year if they are under 18.

Independent Mental Health Advocates

If you’re detained under the Mental Health Act 1983, you have the right to have access to an Independent Mental Health Advocate (IMHA). They can help you make an application to challenge detention. To get hold of an IMHA, ask any member of ward staff, or look out for posters and leaflets on the ward and contact them yourself, or ask someone else to contact them for you.

Medical records

If you’re thinking of challenging your detention, you may find it helpful to ask for a copy of your medical records first. In some cases, you won’t be allowed to see these records if, for example if this would be likely to cause serious harm to you or someone else.

Get help

It’s best to get help to challenge detention. You can get legal aid to pay for a solicitor. You could also contact an IHMA. There are organisations that specialise in advice to people with mental health problems and they could help you find a solicitor experienced in these cases. Or you could contact your local Healthwatch.

Next steps

Other useful information