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Voluntary patients

Voluntary patients (also known as informal patients) have consented to treatment for mental health difficulties. They are not in hospital under a section of the Mental Health Act

Many voluntary patients have been in hospital under section and decided they want to stay in hospital until they feel well enough to leave.


This is the first thing that happens if you arrive on the ward as a voluntary patient. Carrying out an assessment means we get to know you and work out your care plan.

Leaving the ward

The ward doors are kept locked for safety reasons, and because we have a duty of care to all our patients.

During assessment, you are expected to stay on the ward most of the time so we can work out together what kind of care and treatment is right for you.

Even as a voluntary patient, normally before you leave the ward for the first time a nurse and a doctor will need to see you so they can assess whether you are well enough.

We may need to ask you for your patience while we wait for a doctor to be available, and again while we open the door.

Day to day, nurses will still need to check with you that you are well enough to go out before you leave the ward.

If at any time we are very concerned about your mental health, we might use a short-term section of the Mental Health Act to keep you on the ward for a few hours for a proper assessment.

If appropriate, we might decide to keep you in hospital under a longer section so you can get support and avoid harming yourself or others.

Speak to your nurse if you have any questions about leaving the ward.

Care plan

Each patient has a personalised care plan which is discussed and agreed during assessment.

A care plan might include medication, talking, answering questions, group work with other patients, and treatment for physical health problems.

As a voluntary patient, you can refuse any of the care and treatment we suggest, however it helps us if you can tell us about your concerns.

If you want to stop your treatment and leave the ward, we might encourage you to continue with your care plan and remain on the ward.

If we have concerns, we might assess you under the Mental Health Act. This means you might be kept in hospital. If this happens you will be given information about what is happening and your rights.


We want the wards to be safe and therapeutic environments. This means staff might search you or your property if they have a reason to think you have anything that might harm yourself or others (“restricted items”).

  • Sometimes, searches will be carried out by a drugs dog, or “sniffer dog”.
  • If you are searched, we will tell you why, and do our best to respect your privacy and dignity.
  • If you have any concerns or questions, please speak to a member of staff.

Concerns, questions and complaints

Please tell us. We want everyone to get the right care and support. Visit our concerns and complaints page to find out more.

Find out more