An Independent Mental Health Advocate (IMHA) is a specialist advocate, first introduced in 2007 under amendments to the 1983 Mental Health Act. The Act calls people who are eligible for IMHA ‘qualifying patients.’ Such people are legally entitled to an independent, confidential and free service. IMHAs have legal rights which are not available to other advocates. This means they can:
- meet qualifying patients in private
- consult with professionals concerned with the patient's care and treatment
- see any records relating to the patient's detention, treatment or after-care, for the purpose of providing help to the patient and where the patient consents
- access records where the patient lacks capacity to consent, if accessing the records is necessary to carry out the functions as an IMHA.
IMHAs must comply with reasonable requests to visit a qualifying patient if the request is made by the patient’s nearest relative, approved mental health practitioner or responsible clinician.
People do not have to accept help from an IMHA, and may change their mind at any time.