Independent Mental Health Advocacy

From 1 April 2018, we are providing Independent Mental Health Advocates (IMHAs) to support Reading people who are detained (‘sectioned’) at Prospect Park Hospital in Reading, Berkshire. IMHAs also support people placed under community treatment orders or guardianship.

IMHAs help you:

  • understand why you have been sectioned
  • know your legal rights under the Mental Health Act
  • have your say about your care.

Our service is free, independent and confidential to eligible people. Our advocates work for Reading Voice and are not employed by the NHS or social services.

Before 1 April 2018, IMHAs for Reading people were provided by a different advocacy organisation called seAp. We are liaising with them on the changeover. 

Who is eligible for an IMHA?

The Mental Health Act (1983) says you are entitled to an IMHA if:

  • You are being held in hospital under the Mental Health Act (being detained or ‘sectioned’ and not allowed to leave hospital)
  • You are on a community treatment order (CTO), which means you do not have to stay in hospital but you have to follow a treatment plan such as taking medication, and if you do not, doctors can recall you back to hospital if needed
  • You are under guardianship, which means the local authority or an approved person, oversees decisions about where you live, daily activities, treatment and visits from mental health professionals.

Reading Voice provides IMHAs for people who normally live in Reading and who are sectioned at Prospect Park Hospital in Reading, Berkshire and/or who are placed under CTOs or guardianship when they leave hospital. If you normally live outside of Reading, we can signpost you to another organisation that provides IMHAs for people living in other areas.

Also, if you usually live in Reading but are not eligible for an IMHA but still need support in having your say about care at Prospect Park Hospital, then we can offer you help from one of our NHS Complaints Advocates.

What type of support can our advocates offer?

The role of an IMHA is to:

  • listen to you without judgement, and help make sure your views are listened to by others
  • help you understand your detention, the reasons for your treatment, and any restrictions on your life
  • help you understand your legal rights under the Mental Health Act
  • talk through your options with you and give you information to help you make decisions
  • help you speak up, and say what you want and need in hospital and when you leave, such as by going with you to meetings with professionals
  • help you with tribunals if you want to challenge your detention, CTO or guardianship – this could include helping you apply for a tribunal, helping you access free legal advice, or coming with you or speaking up for you at tribunal hearings.

You can decline the help of an IMHA if you wish. The law says IMHAs have the right to:

  • visit wards to meet patients
  • meet the patient in private, if the patient requests this
  • meet and speak with doctors or others involved in the care of the patient
  • see the patient’s records, held by a hospital or local authority, with the patient’s consent, or if it is in their best interests
Can relatives or friends of the patient get help from an IMHA?

An IMHA’s role is to act for the patient, and not their friends and family. However, an IMHA will tell patients what rights other people in the patient’s life have. The Mental Health Act says a ‘nearest relative’ must be designated for all patients who are detained or under a CTO or guardianship. Nearest relatives have the right to:

  • get information about the patient’s care, treatment, detention, restrictions or discharge (with the patient’s consent)
  • discharge the patient, in certain circumstances, or apply for a tribunal hearing if doctors object to discharge
  • ask social services to carry out a mental health assessment of the person such as during a mental health crisis
  • ask a hospital to detain the person in an emergency
  • request that an IMHA visits the patient.

Nearest relatives could be:

  • Husband, wife or civil partner
  • Son or daughter
  • Father or mother
  • Brother or sister
  • Grandparent
  • Grandchild
  • Uncle or aunt
  • Niece or nephew
  • A person someone other than a relative, who has been living with the person for five years or more
What training and standards do our advocates follow?

Our IMHAs have gained, or are studying towards the Level 3 City and Guilds Award in Independent Mental Health Advocacy. Some of our IMHAs are also trained as statutory NHS Complaints Advocates, and/or Care Act Advocates, so they can help the same person about different parts of their health or social care if needed. All our advocates must:

  • be DBS-checked
  • have undergone Level 1 safeguarding training
  • follow the nationally recognised Code of Practice for Advocates
  • follow our charity’s policies, including those on equality and diversity, data protection and lone working.

How do I request an IMHA from your service?

You should be told by mental health professionals of your right to see an advocate, at the time of your detention, or as soon as possible afterwards, and be given a leaflet with our contact details. Carl Borges, our Independent Mental Health Advocate, visits Prospect Park Hospital wards weekly. If he isn’t on site when you need an IMHA, you can telephone the Reading Voice Advocacy Hub on 0118 937 2295, or email us at helpdesk@readingvoice.org.uk. Calls and emails are answered Monday-Friday, 9am-4.30pm. We may be able to arrange visits to see you outside of these hours. 

Can people still get support from the same advocate they had from Seap before 1 April 2018?

From 1 April 2018, Reading Voice is providing the IMHA service for Reading people who are sectioned at Prospect Park Hospital, taking over from the separate advocacy organisation seAp which was previously providing the service. We are liaising with seAp on this changeover, including the advocacy support of any long-term patients.

IMHA services for Reading people at Prospect Park are arranged and funded by Reading Borough Council, using government funding. The council chose Reading Voice to take over the service as part of a move to have the same organisation providing most advocacy to local people.

Useful information

Your rights under the Mental Health Act

If you are detained or subject to restrictions under the Mental Health Act, you have legal rights designed to:

  • protect your safety, dignity and respect
  • give you access to information, advocacy or legal advice
  • involve you in your care decisions
  • allow you to appeal detentions
  • allow you to complain to an independent body
  • explain how your family can be involved

These rights are set out in this Easy read version of the government’s Code of Practice for the Mental Health Act.


Making complaints about misuse of the Mental Health Act

A national independent organisation called the Care Quality Commission has the role of checking that patients’ basic human rights are maintained while they are being care for or treated under the Mental Health Act.

The CQC does this by:

  • investigating complaints it receives from individual patients
  • sending in staff to psychiatric hospitals to check if they following the law
  • publishing a report every year about what it finds.

Details on making a complaint can be found on the CQC website or you can ask your IMHA about how to do this. Relatives or members of the public can also give feedback or make complaints to the CQC.

Government Review of the Mental Health Act

The government has asked a group of professionals to review the Mental Health Act because it is concerned about:

  • rising numbers of people being detained under the Act
  • the disproportionate number of people from black and minority ethnic groups detained under the Act
  • processes that are out of step with a modern mental health care system.

The review will seek the views of service users, carers, rand organisations to help inform recommendations.

A report is due to be published in autumn 2018.

You can find out more on this government webpage.