We need your help

Over 2,000 people with a learning disability and/or autistic people are still locked away in modern-day asylums.

They are often many miles from home. Some are subject to physical restraint, over-medication and being kept in isolation.

Despite often fighting for years to get them out, families are powerless against the system.

This is a human rights scandal. No one should be treated like this.

Campaigning for Change

In this video, hear the stories of the families of former patients to understand why things must change

Houses of parliament

Important announcement

Mencap and partners have been campaigning to stop the inappropriate detention of people with a learning disability in inpatient units and ensure the right community support is developed. Yesterday, the government released a new draft mental health bill which could help many of those people.

The problem

The government has failed to deliver on its promise to 'Transform Care' and the latest data from NHS England is evidence of that:

Infographic showing statistics related to Transform Care

The government must learn the lessons of the failures to date and do things differently.  

The latest NHS' figures in the infographic above show the number of people with a learning disability and/or autism currently in inpatient units. These people can be subjected to physical restraint, over-medication and being kept in isolation.  

It's over 10 years since the Winterbourne View scandal, so the government has had more than enough time to get people back to their local communities, near their loved ones, where they belong.   

What we want

We want to see people with a learning disability back home in their communities, living fulfilling lives close to their families and friends, with proper support in place for them in their local area.  

This will require the government, NHS and local authorities working together to provide the right support at the right time for people with a learning disability in their local communities. Social care reform is a vital part of this.

How we can make this happen

The government must set out in its upcoming action plan how it will make sure this happens.

We need to see a robust plan that ensures people with a learning disability and/or autism get the right support across social care, health, housing and education.

No more excuses. The government must finally deliver on its promise to Transform Care.  

Tea, smiles and empty promises

Families of some of the former patients at Winterbourne View came together to mark 10 years since the Winterbourne View abuse scandal. They have shared their stories showing why urgent action is neeed. With these families, we are calling on the government to:

  • Publish its cross-government action plan that it has committed to implementing;
  • Commit to preventing people being admitted to inpatient units in the first place, by ensuring the right community support is available;
  • Ensure support for those people and families who have been traumatised by the inpatient system.

They have told their stories in ‘Tea, smiles and empty promises: Winterbourne View, and a decade of failures’ (standard and Easy Read) and wrote to the Prime Minister to demand change.  

You can help support our goal of seeing more people with a learning disability back home in their communities, living fulfilling lives close to their families and friends, with proper support in place for them in their local area.  

Take action today

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

We have given answers to some of your frequently asked questions about transforming care. See the answer by clicking each question below.

What is an ATU and how does it differ from an inpatient unit, mental health hospital or institution?

ATU stands for Assessment and Treatment Unit. 

When we refer to “inpatient units” or “mental health hospitals” and “institutions” we are referring to the range of inpatient mental health provision in which people with a learning disability, Autism, or both, may be placed under section. This includes assessment and treatment units (ATUs).

Isabelle, whose son Matthew, was detained in an Assessment and Treatment Unit for 15 months, explains what an inpatient unit is in this video:

What is the Transforming Care Programme

The Transforming Care programme was the government’s response to the public outcry about the shocking abuse taking place at the Winterbourne View care home, revealed by BBC’s Panorama in 2011. 

After the exposure of Winterbourne View, the government committed to a programme of work aimed at supporting people to move out of units and back to their local communities. The government promised people in inpatient units would be supported to move back to their local communities by 1 June 2014. This simply didn't happen.. 

In 2015, NHS England has led a 3 year closure programme called ‘Building the right support’. NHS England promised that by May 2019: 

  • 35-50% of inpatient beds for people with a learning disability and/or Autism would be closed 

  • the right support would be developed in local communities for people with a learning disability and/or Autism and behaviour that challenges. 

NHS England published a PDF 'service model' setting out the range of local support hat should be available in each area by March 2019. 

This target was missed and the government promised to close 35% of inpatient beds by March 2020. This was missed as well. 

The government has now committed to closing 50% of inpatient beds by March 2024. This target is in the NHS long Term plan. 

However, there is still no Action plan setting out how they will make this happen. 


Do people with a learning disability need to be in inpatient units?

Most people with a learning disability and behaviour that challenges should never need to go into an inpatient units. They should be able to get the support they need in their community.

Individuals sometimes experience crisis situations that may require specialist interventions. At these times the following steps are needed:

  1. An assessment of the cause of the problem.
  2. A treatment plan to address the identified issues.
  3. Access to good support that is close to home.

It should rarely be necessary to admit a person to an inpatient unit.

It is important that people can get assessment and support before they reach crisis as this can help prevent them getting to this point in the first place, which is when they are most at risk of being admitted to an inpatient unit.

Why do people with a learning disability get 'stuck' in inpatient units?

Unnecessary admission to institutions is so concerning because people are known to be at an increased risk of abuse and neglect in these settings, and they can also easily get trapped there for many years.

People are often admitted in crisis situations and sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

People can deteriorate because the environment is not right for them and that can make their behaviour worse. This means it is harder to get them discharged as they continue to be seen as a risk to themselves or others.

There are also worrying perverse financial incentives in the system which add to this problem. Once people are sectioned they are funded by the health system, so local authorities might be reluctant to develop community support because they know that they only have very limited budgets to do so. Private inpatient hospitals may also be reluctant to discharge them as having a patient in a bed in a source of money.

Since the beginning of Transforming Care there has been no change in the average length of stay in institutions (over 5 years).

What support is available for families who have a loved one 'stuck' in an inpatient unit?

We may be able to provide information, advice and support to family members who have a loved one stuck in institutions as well as supporting families to access legal support. This can be accessed on our website or through our helpline.

Mencap, the Challenging Behaviour Foundation and Respond have also produced a number of "Meeting the challenge" guides aimed at families and people with a learning disability to help them know their rights.

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