Mental Health Act - emergency and short-term powers: guide

A guide for service users and their carers to the Mental Health Act emergency and short-term powers (2008 version).

6 The nurses' holding power where a person is a voluntary patient in hospital

If you have been admitted to hospital for treatment on a voluntary basis, and later decide that you wish to discharge yourself, against medical advice, then you may be prevented from leaving by a nurse using the nurses' holding power.

This power allows a nurse to detain you in hospital for up to 2 hours so that a doctor can examine you. This 2-hour period can be extended by
1 more hour, where the doctor arrives within the second hour that you have been detained, from the point that the doctor arrives. For example, say the nurse exercises the holding power at 1 pm. If the doctor arrives at 2.30 pm, then you could be detained for a further hour, i.e. until 3.30 pm.

A nurse should only use this power where it is not possible for you to be examined by a doctor immediately, and he/she believes that:

  • You have a mental disorder; and
  • It is necessary for your health safety or welfare, or the safety of any other person, that you be detained; and
  • It is necessary for you to be examined by a doctor so that the doctor can decide whether an emergency detention certificate or short-term detention certificate should be granted.

Whenever a nurse uses this power, he/she must make a written record of it, and pass this to the hospital managers. The hospital managers must send a copy of this record to the Mental Welfare Commission.

If you are examined by a doctor, he/she might decide that you don't need any medical treatment, or might agree arrangements about your treatment with you. In some cases, he/she might decide to grant an emergency detention certificate ( see here) or a short-term detention certificate ( see here).

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