This literature review forms a background element of a comparative study of two acute psychiatric wards in the East End of London. The research focused on ward rules as a means of investigating the relationship between the flexibility/inflexibility of ward nursing regimes and patient outcomes. Previous studies identified a relationship between ward rules and patient aggression. Other studies identified a link between absconding by inpatients and nurses’ attitudes towards rule enforcement. However, an in-depth exploration of psychiatric ward rules from the perspective of nurses and patients has not been undertaken previously.