Quick Guide – AWOLs

  • This guide is an attempt to “operationalise” complex issues and you should refer to your area’s policy and your supervisors for specific local requirements.
  • There is a legal duty to report all AWOL patients to the police who are “Dangerous, especially vulnerable or subject to Part III MHA”.
  • “Part III MHA” means patients who entered the mental health system via the criminal courts, often described as “s37” or “s37/41” patients.
  • Otherwise, reporting missing persons is discretionary to the mental health trust.
  • Detained MHA patients – there is a power to redetain under s18 MHA but in some cases, timescales apply.
  • Voluntary / Informal patients – there is no power to redetain. They must be considered afresh, under the MHA.
  • If the whereabouts of the patient are known to the MH trust from which they are missing, it is the duty of the MH trust to repatriate them or go to assess them.
  • It is the responsibility of the NHS to commission conveyance arrangements to do this.
  • If support is sought from the police, this should be because there are RAVE risks and it is the role of the police to support, not replace the NHS.
  • There is no power to hold people in police cells after detaining someone as AWOL under the MHA.
  • It is the legal duty to return the patient to the hospital from which they are missing or to which they have been recalled.
  • Bed management issues arising from the re-detention are then a matter for the NHS, through their contingency arrangements and duty managers, if needed.
  • These should be sorted out at the hospital concerned, with ongoing police support if there are RAVE risks.
  • The power of arrest under s18 does not have a power of entry attached.
  • If entry needs to be forced in order to exercise it, a warrant under s135(2) is required.
  • Police officers may apply on their own for a s135(2) warrant, if they need to.
  • It would be better if the application or execution of the warrant were accompanied by a mental health professional.
  • Paragraph 28.14 MHA CoP – “If the patient’s location is known, the role of the police should … be only to assist a suitably qualified professionals.”

Winner of the President’s Medal,
the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Winner of the Mind Digital Media Award


All opinions expressed are my own – they do not represent the views of any organisation.
(c) Michael Brown, 2019

I try to keep this blog up to date, but inevitably over time, amendments to the law as well as court rulings and other findings from inquests and complaints processes mean it is difficult to ensure all the articles and pages remain current.  Please ensure you check all legal issues in particular and take appropriate professional advice where necessary.

Government legislation website – http://www.legislation.gov.uk