Mencap and the Challenging Behaviour Foundation respond to latest NHS Digital figures which show an increasing number of people with a learning disability and/or autism locked away in these modern-day asylums, where they are at even greater risk during the coronavirus pandemic.

  • At least 2,085 people with a learning disability and/or autism still locked away in inpatient units as charities warn they are at even greater risk during coronavirus crisis – up from 2,060 last month
  • 225 children with a learning disability and/or autism are still locked away in inpatient units – up from 200 last month
  • People with a learning disability and/or autism continue to be locked away during lockdown – 125 admissions in June 2020

Edel Harris, Chief Executive of the learning disability charity Mencap, said:

“We have long been warning that lockdown must not mean more people being locked up. Yet today’s data shows another worrying increase in the number of children and adults with a learning disability and/or autism locked away in these modern-day asylums. In these units, people are at greater risk of abuse and neglect, and we saw the use of restrictive interventions against children soar during lockdown. 

"While the Government has previously announced funding to enhance support in the community to help avoid admissions and increase discharges, this month a new £33m unit in a remote location for 40 people with a learning disability and/or autism was approved. The Government should not be investing more money into the wrong type of care. What we urgently need is delivery of the cross-government strategy to drive forward the change required to truly transform social care.”

Sharon, mother of Ryan who is currently being held in an inpatient unit, said:

"At 31 years old, my son Ryan – who has autism – has lived in 11 to 12 different care settings over the last 14 years. An independent case review for Ryan’s case, following Matt Hancock’s promise, has finally taken place and flagged multiple urgent concerns. This included Ryan being over-medicated, his basic human rights not being upheld, and a discharge plan not being pursued, despite discharge being agreed two and a half years ago. Deadlines for many of the actions have already passed and I’m left wondering what is the point of these reviews if nothing is being acted on?

"Ryan, who has never committed a crime, is currently being held in a medium secure forensic unit alongside ex-offenders and has been in long-term segregation for over three years. We need to see change now. Ryan – and the thousands of others – deserve so much more.”

Vivien Cooper OBE, CEO of the Challenging Behaviour Foundation, said:

“The data published today shows that there continues to be a high number of children, young people and adults with learning disabilities in inpatients units when they should be supported properly in the community. It is well established that inpatient units, particularly large segregated institutions, put children and adults with learning disabilities and/or autistic people at greater risk of restraint, over-medication, seclusion and abuse. However, despite repeated words of commitment to transform care, and instead of addressing this by focusing on and promoting the development of effective community support, the government have just agreed to a brand new 40 bedded inpatient unit, on a remote site, next to a secure hospital. This is in direct opposition to the Transforming Care programme which aims to reduce the number of inpatient beds and develop suitable community support for people with learning disabilities. The government needs to show clear leadership and immediately ensure that any plans to increase inpatient provision using outdated large, remote, congregate models are halted, and co-ordinate with Health, Education and Social Care to ensure the rights of children and adults with learning disabilities to receive support and services to meet their needs in the community are upheld.”

  • Delayed discharges continue with at least 125 people still stuck in hospital when they are ready for discharge in June 2020
  • The average total length of stay in inpatient units is 5.6 years.
  • 3,330 recorded instances of restrictive interventions (like physical, prone, mechanical and chemical restraint) being used in April 2020, of which 805 were against children. This is likely to be just the “tip of the iceberg” as only data for 2 out of 15 private/independent providers and 23 out of 56 NHS providers.

Full report accessed via NHS Digital:

Ends –

   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 2,085 at the end of June 2020.
  3. Figures for restrictive practices quoted from NHS Digital MHSDS Data: April 2020, published July 2020. For more information visit:
  4. 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.
  5. Mencap and CBF 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 (8am-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: