Choice of mental health provider

Legal rights to choice have been introduced in mental health as part of the drive to achieve parity with physical health. The legal rights cover:

  • Choice of mental healthcare provider
  • Choice of mental healthcare team

To support commissioners, referrers and providers we have developed guidance on implementing patients’ legal rights to choose the provider and team for their mental health care, which gives a description and interpretation of the legal rights to help support consistent application of the rights across the mental health sector. Alongside the guidance we have published clinical scenarios to provide examples of how and when choice may apply for a range of patients accessing mental health services.

NHS England undertook an extensive consultation period when this guidance was initially developed. This document was last updated in February 2018.

Embedding the legal rights

The guidance aims to support the NHS to further embed the legal rights so that they operate well and in the best interests of patients. This will ensure that:

  • All patients with mental health conditions are aware of their rights and have the information and support they need to make well informed choices that meet their needs and preferences.
  • All GPs offer the ‘right to choice’ to eligible patients and support them in making informed decisions.
  • All providers of mental health outpatient services provide good quality, up-to-date information about available services, to enable meaningful patient choice, and that providers accept all appropriate patient referrals in line with the NHS Standard Contract.
  • All commissioners enable the right to choice of services by:
    • commissioning services that meet the needs of patients;
    • having referral protocols with GPs that support patient choice; and
    • using the levers in the NHS Standard Contract to ensure choice works well for patients.

Supporting the implementation of the legal rights

Embedding the legal rights to choice in mental health will take time and collective efforts to achieve. Healthcare professionals have come together to co-develop and undertake a significant programme of work to support implementation of the legal rights to choice in mental health to support the following key groups:

  • Patients – ensure people with mental health conditions are aware of their rights and have the information and support they need to make well informed choices that meet their needs and preferences, by improving the information on the NHS website about mental health conditions, symptoms, current treatments and the legal right to choice. There are also plans to develop a tool to help patients compare services and support informed decision making. We will be working with patient groups to promote the NHS website, increase patient awareness and give feedback on services to improve the information available for others.
  • GPs – develop resources to help patients make informed decisions that support GPs in offering the right to choice to eligible patients. We will work with GPs to understand whether additional tools would be helpful to support ‘choice conversations’ with patients.
  • Providers – offer support to organisations offering mental health services to help them make good quality information about their services, through the NHSwebsite and the NHS Choose and Book system (which is moving to the NHS e-Referral Service in 2015).
  • Commissioners – helping commissioners to develop local processes to support patient choice.

Get involved

We will continue to involve key stakeholders in our work, including the development of further resources which we will publish on this website.

You and your organisation might find it useful to collaborate with other local organisations that have an essential role in making choice work well for patients. If you are organising a workshop and would find it useful to have an attendee from NHS England to build understanding of what the legal rights mean and how they can be implemented locally, please contact

We are also looking for real life examples of how the legal rights to choice in mental health services are working well in practice. If you wish to share examples with us please email