BMA guidance

The doctor's role in restraint in custodial settings

This guidance was developed to assist doctors as they navigate their ethical and legal responsibilities in circumstances where restraint or control is used.

Location: UK
Audience: All doctors
Updated: Friday 28 June 2024
Topics: Ethics
Justice scales article illustration

What you’ll get from this guide

  • In what circumstances restraint can be used, and in what circumstances doctors can request that it is removed.
  • When doctors should be involved in decisions to restrain patients.
  • The use of restraint in NHS settings.


How to use this guide

The guidance applies primarily to circumstances where people are detained in prisons but may also be relevant to prisoners in police stations, young offenders’ institutions and asylum seeker detention centres.

It is not a set of rules or instructions, or a substitute for careful reflection and discussion with colleagues.

You can seek additional advice on specific dilemmas from the BMA’s medical ethics and human rights department, the GMC, or your medical defence organisation.

  • Treatment in prison
  • The medical role in restraint and control
  • Restraints of detainees in NHS facilities
  • Prison Service rules on restraint in NHS facilities
  • Restraint in transit
  • Restraint in non-medical settings