A descriptive study of leave policies, within mental health and forensic settings in the United Kingdom’s National Health Service

  • Emily-May Barlow

Student thesis: Masters ThesisMasters by Research


‘Leave' occurs when a mental health inpatient exits their hospital ward with authorised permission; limited research has explored the use of leave, nor its implementation in practice (Barlow and Dickens 2018). This study determines the content of leave policies, which operate across National Health Service (NHS) Trusts and Health boards in the UK.
A ‘Freedom of Information Act’ (Legislation.gov.uk, 2000; Scottish Parliament, 2002) request was sent to all UK NHS Trusts and Health boards. Retrieved policies were subject to content analysis whereby data were extracted using the most pertinent of five self-designed tools.
Seventy-five leave policies were obtained; 75% of these mandate the practice of civil leave under section 17 principles (DoH, 1983/ 2007), in England and Wales. The policies did not relay national information with accuracy and original information was often varied and disconnected. The values of mental health practice, broadly speaking, are not collectively represented in the leave policies’ practices’ or language.
Leave decisions and practices should be informed by explicit knowledge, within the context of available resources, yet an un-evidenced governing philosophy is echoed in many policies, disregarding therapeutic principles such as empowerment and involvement.
This is the only research which presents both the prevalence and content of leave policies across the UK. The researcher offers a best practice guideline to communicate key leave principles, salient processes and novel recommendations for good practice.
Date of AwardFeb 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Abertay University
SponsorsNHS Tayside
SupervisorGeoff Dickens (Supervisor), Jason Annetts (Supervisor) & Joseph Armstrong (Supervisor)


  • Mental Health Act
  • Mental Health Care and Treatment Act
  • Code of Practice
  • Section 17 Leave
  • Leave of Absence
  • Therapeutic Leave
  • Forensic Leave
  • Civil patient
  • Detained patient
  • Informal patient
  • Leave Policy

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