Mental Health
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Mental Health Advocacy

When someone is admitted to hospital they can be detained under the Mental Health Act. This can be very distressing, and sometimes people who are being detained feel powerless and unable to ask questions or get information.   Independent advocacy can help. The support of a trained advocate can help someone understand:

  • Why they have been detained
  • Explain their rights under the Mental Health Act
  • Ensure their views and wishes are taken into account by those involved in care & treatment

Independent Mental Health Advocacy is a new type of statutory advocacy introduced in 2009. There is now a legal duty to provide Independent Mental Health Advocacy to patients who qualify under the Mental Health Act 1983.


The Mental Health Act 1983 calls a patient who is eligible for an Independent Mental Health Advocate a 'qualifying patient'. You will be a 'qualifying patient' if you are:

  • Detained under section 5.2 or 5.3 of the Mental Health Act, even if they are on section 17 leave from hospital
  • A conditionally discharged restricted patient
  • Subject to guardianship (section 5.7)
  • Subject to a supervised community treatment order (SCT)
  • An informal patient being considered for section 57 treatment (psychosurgery)
  • An informal patient aged under 18 and being considered for section 58a treatment (ECT)

Role of an Advocate

An Independent Mental Health Advocate (an IMHA) is someone who is specially trained to work within the framework of the Mental Health Act to meet the needs of patients. This service does not replace any other advocacy and support services that are available to patients. An IMHA will work alongside these services. Patients should be informed of their right to access an IMHA. This is the responsibility of the person who is in charge of their care at the time.

An IMHA can help you to find out about and understand:

  • Your rights and the rights others (e.g. relatives) under the Mental Health Act 1983
  • The parts of the Mental Health Act 1983 which apply to you
  • Any other conditions or restrictions which apply to you
  • Any medical treatment you are receiving or might be given
  • The reasons and legal authority for providing particular medical treatment
  • Safeguards and other requirements which apply to your treatment
  • How you can appeal against your section

The involvement of an IMHA does not affect your right (or the right of your nearest relative) to seek advice from a lawyer, nor does it affect your entitlement to legal aid.

Benefits of Advocacy

An IMHA can help you:

  • Exercise your rights, which can include acting and/or speaking on your behalf
  • Participate in the decisions that are made about your care and treatment
  • Get access to your Medical Records

An IMHA will:

  • Spend time with you and ask questions to get to know your views and wishes
  • Visit you in private, if that is appropriate
  • Support you on ward rounds and attend meetings you have with the professionals involved in your care and treatment, if you would like them to
  • Visit and speak to any person who is currently professionally concerned with your treatment, provided it is for the purpose of supporting you in their role as your IMHA

An IMHA cannot:

  • Offer advice, opinions or judgements about what is best for you
  • Act as a substitute for therapeutic support

An IMHA will not tell anyone information about you without your consent, unless breach of law or danger to life is involved. Find out more about our confidentiality policy.

Advocate Role

An Independent Mental Health Advocate or IMHA is available to support any one subject to a section of the Mental Health Act. Our clients are either on a ward in a psychiatric hospital, on a Community Treatment Order (CTO), or under Section 17 leave.

We are independent of the NHS and have certain rights under mental health act such as the right to request information on behalf of a patient, and to see medical notes.

If you are under section is your statutory right to have an advocate to support you to have your voice heard about your care and treatment for your mental health condition. This service is free of charge and confidential.

What we do

We visit both psychiatric hospitals in Oxford. We have regular times when our advocates visit each ward, so that it is easy for patients to get hold of us if they need to access our service. We support them to better understand their rights whilst they are under a section, for example their right to appeal their section. We also attend meetings with patients to ensure that the professionals involved in their care are listening to a patient’s views and opinions surrounding their own care and treatment.

We adhere to a strict confidentiality policy that means that we do not share any information given to us by patients, apart from in exceptional circumstances. Our advocates visit both prisons in Oxfordshire, HMP Bullingdon and HMP Huntercombe in order to offer support to the prisoners there who are suffering with mental health difficulties. These particular prisoners may need an independent person to help them access services and seek improvements for the care they receive. We are also able to offer our service to people in the community to help support them with issues around their mental health care and treatment.

What we don’t do

We do not tell patients what to do, or give them advice or share our own opinions, nor do we judge any information a patient shares with us. We only support those patients who ask us to do so. No one has to have an IMHA if they don’t want one, however there is a duty on the Trust to inform each patient who is under a section about the IMHA service.


To be an IMHA you have to have achieved the ‘Qualification in Advocacy’ or the ‘QIA’, within a year of starting in the role. All the Oxfordshire IMHAs have this qualification or are working towards the qualification, and are paid to do the role. The service is funded by Oxfordshire County Council and so is independent of the NHS.

The Mental Health Advocacy service (IMHA) is delivered by seAp.

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Funded By:

Oxfordshire County Council

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