Independent Mental Health Advocacy (IMHA)

An IMHA is a specialist mental health advocate. The changes to the Mental Health Act meant that as of April 2009 there is a legal duty to provide IMHA advocates for eligible people.

The IMHA is not there to replace existing advocacy, legal advice or support, but to work alongside them. This service is free and confidential.

People will qualify for an IMHA if they are:

  • Detained under the Mental Health Act for assessment and treatment (this does not include people detained on emergency short term sections, or detained in a place of safety)
  • Conditionally discharged restricted patients
  • On Supervised Community Treatment Orders or Guardianship Orders
  • Informal/voluntary patients who are discussing the possibility of serious treatment (e.g. neurosurgery) for a ‘mental disorder’ (or ECT if the person is under 18 years of age)

An IMHA can work alongside the person and:

  • Help them to get and understand information about mental health legislation, any conditions and restrictions on them, and their rights
  • Help them to get information about and understand medical treatment (e.g. medication, therapies)
  • Support them to take part in care planning
  • Support them to apply to, prepare for, and attend Hospital Manager’s Hearings and Mental Health Review Tribunals and to understand the decisions that are made
  • Discuss aftercare and accessing support and services
  • Raise concerns about their experiences of care and support

What can an IMHA do that another advocate can’t?

In order to support people, and with their consent, the IMHA will also be able to:

  • Visit and talk to them in private
  • Visit and interview anyone concerned with their medical treatment (e.g. nurses or consultants)
  • Request relevant medical and social services records

How will patients find out about the service?

There is a duty on hospital managers, responsible clinicians and social services (in the case of Guardianship Orders) to:

  • Inform patients about the advocacy service
  • Take all possible steps to ensure patients understand what is available to them and how they can access help

There is also a duty for information to be given to the nearest relative of detained patients, unless the patient requests otherwise.

Referrals to the service

Anyone can refer to an IMHA, but IMHAs must respond to requests to visit an eligible person if the request comes from the person themselves, their nearest relative, the responsible clinician or an approved mental health professional.

The person can choose whether or not to work with an IMHA when they have visited. Working with an IMHA does not affect the right to seek legal advice, or any entitlement there may be to legal aid. It does not prevent people from working with another advocate, but other advocates do not have the same legal rights and duties as an IMHA.

Referrals can be made between Monday and Friday, 9.00am – 5.00pm by calling 01434 600599 or by emailing

Alternatively, you can download a referral form (below) and fax it to us: 01434 605251. Referrals forms can also be sent by post: Northumberland Independent Advocacy Service, Burn Lane, Hexham NE46 3HN.

If you have used this service recently we’d like to know what you think. Please leave your feedback at the form below and return to: Thank you.