Exclusive data obtained by ITV News and analysed by Mencap has uncovered the shocking cost of a human rights scandal. 

Over 2000 people with a learning disability and autistic people are currently being held in mental health inpatient units - despite many of them not having a mental health condition - at a cost of around £534 million a year.i

These figures were released after a Freedom of Information request to NHS England and Integrated Care Boards (ICBs) provided figures for the 2022/23 financial year.

See how the money is wasted

Our analysis with ITV News shows the huge amounts of public money that is being spent on the wrong kind of treatment for many people with a learning disability and autistic people.

The new analysis estimates the average cost of detaining someone with a learning disability and/or autistic people in a mental health unit is £237,000 per year. With the average length of stay for current inpatients amounting to nearly 5 years, this cost rises to £1.2 million per person.

According to an NHS report published last year, 41% of people with learning disability and/or autistic people should not even be locked in mental health hospitals, as their needs could be met in the community .ii  

Using the figures from the Freedom of Information request, that means £18 million a month is being spent on locking people up in units where they don’t need to be.

Many people with a learning disability and autistic people end up in mental health units not because they need inpatient treatment, but because of a failure to invest in the right community support with a focus on early intervention and preventing crisis. In these types of units people are at increased risk of abuse and neglect and subjected to over-medication, inappropriate restraint, and seclusion, often resulting in lasting trauma.  

Isabelle Garnett’s son, Matthew 23, has a learning disability and has witnessed first-hand the devastating impact the wrong type of care can have and the vast amounts of public money misspent on his care. 
“We were told our son needed assessment and treatment for 12 weeks. This turned into 18 months of incarceration in a mental health unit, 190 miles from home and 6 hour round trip to see him," she recalls.

“Under this provider's so-called care, our son was overmedicated, restrained and secluded.  This did not help him get better. It resulted in a catastrophic deterioration in his mental health caused by their neglect and abuse.  It reportedly cost £13,500 per week to detain my son in this unit. The cost of his care now, living in the community, is significantly less than this. £13,500 a week for neglect, abuse and traumatisation is not a good use of money.

“This money could have made a positive difference had it been used earlier to build the right support for him to live in the community near his family. Instead, my son - and us his family - will have to live with the trauma of what happened to him for the rest of our lives.”  

The government first pledged to reduce the number of people with a learning disability and autistic people in mental health hospitals and provide the right community support over a decade ago.

Since then, repeated targets to reduce in-patient numbers have been missed. With the deadline for the latest commitment to reduce the number of inpatients with a learning disability or autistic people by 50% by March 2024 just days away, we predict that based on the current rate of change the government won’t reach their target until 2030 - 6 years later than promised.

Sarah’s daughter Rose* has been trapped in a mental health unit due to failures to provide the right community support which would enable her to leave.

“For the last three years, Rose has been effectively imprisoned" Sarah says.

"Rose should be living in the community right now but there is not adequate support, so she is trapped in hospital, in limbo.

“Rose a 35-year-old woman who should be able to go shopping, enjoy her hobbies and live independently. Instead, she is stuck inside a mental health hospital, totally inappropriate for her needs.

“It’s been so upsetting seeing her want to live her life but instead being trapped behind locked doors.” 


Jackie O'Sullivan, acting CEO at learning disability charity Mencap said:

“The scandal of locking people up and destroying lives must end. These FOI findings show an appalling waste of public money on the wrong type of care.

“Failing to invest in the right community support and leaving people with a learning disability and autistic people, some of whom are only children, locked away in mental health hospitals for years on end, where they are at increased risk of harm and abuse, is morally reprehensible.

“It’s crucial the government says what they will do after March to free people and end this human rights scandal once and for all. There must be investment in community support to stop avoidable admissions and prevent people being detained in mental health hospitals when they could be living fulfilling lives in the community.” 

Watch the full story online at ITV News.

i. Analysis conducted by ITN and Mencap using average daily bed rates obtained via FOI from NHSE regional commissioners and Integrated Care Systems, and the Assuring Transformation data for the same period available from https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and information/publications/statistical/learning-disability-services-statistics.  The period covered by the analysis is the financial year 2022/23.
ii. Safe and Wellbeing Reviews: Thematic review and lessons learned, NHSE, February 2023: https://www.england.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/PR1889-Safe-and-wellbeing-review-thematic-review-and-lessons-learned.pdf
*Name has been changed for anonymity
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Help us end the human rights scandal

Thousands of people have been traumatised and huge amounts of public money have been wasted locking people with a learning disability in mental health hospitals, instead of providing the right support in the community. The government holds the key to stopping this scandal once and for all.

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