Mencap and the Challenging Behaviour Foundation (CBF) warn that the pressures of the coronavirus crisis is causing even more delays to people with a learning disability and/or autism getting out of these modern-day asylums where they are at increased risk of abuse and neglect.

Latest NHS Digital figures show that there continues to be 2,100 people locked away despite an ongoing Government and NHS England programme to transform care by closing 50% of beds for people with a learning disability and/or autism in inpatient units by 2024 and provide people with the right support in the community .

Mencap and the Challenging Behaviour Foundation urge the Government , NHS England and local authorities to focus on developing the right support and housing in the community that people desperately need to be discharged.

Jackie O’Sullivan, Executive Director of Communications, Advocacy and Activism at the learning disability charity Mencap, said:

“Over 2,000 people with a learning disability and/or autism are still locked up in modern day asylums. Change was already long overdue, and now COVID-19 has caused even more delays. While the pandemic is an unprecedented situation, it is no reason to allow human rights abuses to continue.

“With a potential second wave this winter, local authorities are ​rightly focusing on COVID-19, but they must not lose focus on developing the right support and housing in the community that people desperately need to be discharged. This is directly linked with social care funding and reform. The Government must urgently provide the funding that social care needs to develop vital local support services and deliver the cross-government strategy to drive forward the change required to truly transform care. People deserve to live in homes not hospitals.”

A spokesperson from the Challenging Behaviour Foundation said:

“Data published today by NHS Digital shows that far too many children, young people and adults remain in inpatient units where they are at risk of restrictive interventions. It has been clearly documented through surveys and inquiries that disabled children, young people and adults have seen much of the minimal support they had drop away during the pandemic.  For those whose behaviours challenge this puts them at risk of harmful restrictive interventions, inappropriate admission to inpatient units and can also prevent timely discharges from inpatient units.

“As the Covid 19 pandemic continues and with the uncertainty of the next few months, comprehensive planning is needed to ensure the provision of appropriate care and support for people with learning disabilities and autistic people. It is essential that individuals and their families are provided with up to date comprehensive information and timely support is prioritised.  It is critical that we get the right support in place in the community to provide direct help to families and to those supporting people with learning disabilities, including social care, schools, and respite services, so they are able to provide effective support under these difficult conditions.”

Furthermore, today’s NHS Digital figures also reveal:

  • little change in the number of admissions with 80 admissions in August 2020
  • the average total length of stay in inpatient units is 5.6 years
  • 3,860 recorded instances of restrictive interventions (like physical, prone, mechanical and chemical restraint) being used in June 2020, of which 620 were against children. This is likely to be just the “tip of the iceberg” as only data for 2 out of 14 private/independent providers and 30 out of 58 NHS providers. A decreasing number of providers reported data on the recorded instances of restrictive interventions this month. [4]

The full report can be accessed via NHS Digital. 


For further information or to arrange interviews, contact Mencap’s media team on:

Notes to editors

  1. Mencap and the Challenging Behaviour Foundation have been campaigning with families on these issues since the abuse scandal at Winterbourne View nine years ago.
  2. The Assuring Transformation data from NHS Digital is the most accurate and up to date account of people with a learning disability and autism in institutions. It is a record of how many are in an institution, how long they have been in for, when their care and treatment is checked and what kind of unit they are in. Latest data shows that numbers have fallen from 2,260 at the end of March 2019 to 2,100 at the end of August 2020:
  4. Figures for restrictive practices quoted from NHS Digital MHSDS Data: June 2020, published September 2020. For more information visit
  5. In the tables for restrictive practices we cannot distinguish between ‘less than 5’ and ‘missing data’, so we have to treat this all as missing data.
  6. Mencap and the Challenging Behaviour Foundation are asking the Government to focus on:   
  • developing local expertise, support and services  
  • ensuring there is joint oversight and ownership of the national programme by the ministers from the Department of Health and Social Care, Department of Housing, Communities and Local Government and Department for Education
  • removing the red tape and funding barriers that are preventing so many people from returning home  
  • there remains no robust plan from leadership for cross-government working.

About Mencap

There are 1.5 million people with a learning disability in the UK. Mencap works to support people with a learning disability, their families and carers by fighting to change laws, improve services and access to education, employment and leisure facilities. Mencap supports thousands of people with a learning disability to live their lives the way they want. 


For advice and information about learning disability and Mencap services in your area, contact Mencap’s freephone Learning Disability Helpline on 0808 808 1111 (9am-6pm, Monday-Friday) or email     

What is a learning disability?

  • A learning disability is a reduced intellectual ability which can cause problems with everyday tasks – for example shopping and cooking, or travelling to new places – which affects someone for their whole life;
  • Learning disability is not a mental illness or a learning difficulty, such as dyslexia . Very often the term ‘learning difficulty’ is wrongly used interchangeably with ‘learning disability’;
  • People with a learning disability can take longer to learn new things and may need support to develop new skills, understand difficult information and engage with other people. The level of support someone needs is different with every individual. For example, someone with a severe learning disability might need much more support with daily tasks than someone with a mild learning disability. 

About The Challenging Behaviour Foundation

The Challenging Behaviour Foundation (CBF) is a charity which exists to demonstrate that individuals with severe learning disabilities whose behaviour challenges can enjoy ordinary life opportunities when their behaviour is properly understood and appropriately supported.

The CBF supports families across the UK caring for individuals with severe learning disabilities. Information and support around understanding challenging behaviour and supporting behaviour change is provided through a range of written and DVD resources, email networks, family linking scheme, and through individual telephone support.

For more information about the CBF’s work on restraint and seclusion: