COVID-19: Going to hospital for a physical illness or injury

This information is for people who have a mental health condition and have had to go into hospital for a physical health problem, and their carers.

It explains what you can expect to happen while you or your loved one is in hospital, and how to communicate with staff about a mental health condition.


This leaflet provides information, not advice.

The content in this leaflet is provided for general information only. It is not intended to, and does not, mount to advice which you should rely on. It is not in any way an alternative to specific advice.

You must therefore obtain the relevant professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action based on the information in this leaflet.

If you have questions about any medical matter, you should consult your doctor or other professional healthcare provider without delay.

If you think you are experiencing any medical condition you should seek immediate medical attention from a doctor or other professional healthcare provider.

Although we make reasonable efforts to compile accurate information in our leaflets and to update the information in our leaflets, we make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in this leaflet is accurate, complete or up to date.

For patients

Yes, you should still go to A&E if you have a life-threatening emergency. You can find information on when to go to A&E on the NHS website.

If you aren’t sure what you need to do, you can call NHS 111 who will listen to your symptoms and help you get the right support.

Hospitals have had to change the way they work. They now need to look after people who have COVID-19 infection and protect those who don’t from getting it.

People may be treated in different areas of the hospital, depending on whether they have, or may have, COVID-19.

Staff are being very careful not to catch or pass on COVID-19. So, when they see you, they may be wearing an apron or gown, masks and visors. This will protect both you and them, and is called Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Hospital staff need to know about your mental health condition as soon as possible, how it affects you and what treatment you have for it, so that they can give you the right treatment safely.

If you have a specialist mental health team looking after you, try to make sure you have a record of their details. For example, you could keep their phone number in your phone contacts, or write it down and keep it in your wallet. If you are admitted to hospital, you should share these details with the staff as soon as you can.

Most general hospitals have something called a liaison psychiatry team made up of psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses. So, if you need help for your mental health while in hospital, the hospital ward staff can ask them for help and advice.

The liaison psychiatry team can also make sure that hospital staff have the right information about the care you had before you came into hospital, and help you to get the right care after you leave.

Liaison psychiatry teams are trying to protect patients from COVID-19 infection. This means they might avoid seeing you in person if it isn’t safe to do so. They may be able talk to you and your family or carers over the phone or by video instead.

Hospital staff will work really hard to make sure that you get the care you need. They need to know about your mental health condition and treatment so that they can plan your care safely, so you should let them know about it as soon as possible.

If your mental health symptoms do get worse, they may need to adjust your mental health medication. They may also need to ask for advice from the liaison psychiatry team as to how best to care for your mental health alongside your physical health.

Hospitals are still limiting the number of visitors to keep everyone safe. This can be hard for anyone in hospital when they are feeling unwell and vulnerable. It may be even harder for someone who has a mental health condition.

Ask the staff what the rules are in your area about visitors as they may vary in different parts of the hospital. If you can’t have visitors to your bedside, staff may be able to help you to talk to them on the phone.

Children should always be allowed to have one parent or carer with them unless there are exceptional reasons why this is not possible.

For carers 

Yes. In the instance that your loved one can't communicate about their condition (e.g. they have memory problems, they don’t understand their condition, or they are very young), it is really helpful to contact the ward looking after them to let them know about any mental health condition your loved one has, how it affects them and any treatment they need for it. This will help the ward teams to provide the best possible care for them.

Ward staff will still be following usual procedures regarding information sharing. If they tell you that they can’t give you information about your loved one, they should be able to clearly explain why they cannot do this.

When you speak with ward staff, tell them how you can be contacted and when you are happy to be contacted. If there are several family members or loved ones who want to be updated, it is helpful for staff to keep in contact with one key person who can then communicate with the others as needed.

If you are usually involved with care planning for your loved one, the team taking care of them may be able arrange a way for you to take part in ward meetings virtually, even if you can’t visit. Speak to staff about what the rules are in the hospital your loved one is staying in. As already mentioned, they will follow the usual rules for information sharing.

In the current situation, wards may find it difficult to give you a named person that you can call at any time. But do ask if you can have the ward telephone number. Ask ward staff about how you can get regular updates and tell them about any concerns you have.

Published: Sep 2021

Review due: Sep 2024

© Royal College of Psychiatrists