• Increasing number of children locked away – 255 children in inpatient units at the end of July – more than double the number when the programme began
  • Last week, the government announced £33 million funding for a new 40 bed low secure inpatient unit for people with a learning disability in the North West when investment in community support is what is needed
  • No reduction in the overall number of people with a learning disability and/or autism locked away in inpatient units since Transforming Care targets were missed – currently 2,270 people with a learning disability / autism are locked away in inpatient units

According to data released today from NHS Digital in this PDF, 2,270 people with a learning disability and/or autism remain locked away in inpatient units, of which 255 are children. 

There is an increasing number of children locked away in inpatient units. The figure reported for July 2019 was 255 – which is 10 more than reported in June 2019 and more than double the number of children locked away than when the Government’s Transforming Care programme began.

This latest data release comes after the government announced £33 million funding for Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust to open a new 40 bed low secure inpatient unit for people with learning disabilities last week.

Campaigners have expressed anger and disbelief at the move which appears to be at odds with the principles of its Transforming Care programme.

The CQC has stated publicly that it will be seeking clarification from Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust about how funding the opening of a new 40 bed unit “supports the agreed national policy to move away from large institutional styles of accommodation.” 

Dan Scorer, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at the learning disability charity Mencap, said: 

“While the CQC is having to defend itself against tribunal appeals from providers trying to open up new institutions, the Government is putting more money into the NHS to create new institutions to lock up people with a learning disability. We know that children and adults with a learning disability are at increased risk of neglect and abuse in inpatient units – just like the new 40 bed unit in the North West which has secured multi-million pound backing from the Government. The Government and NHS England are making a mockery of their Transforming Care programme – which promised to close inpatient beds – by opening large inpatient units. This human rights scandal can only be solved by sustained investment in good quality social care and a robust cross-government plan to ensure children and adults with a learning disability get the support they need in the community – hospitals are not homes.”

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

“It is absolutely shocking that the number of children in units has gone up for the second month in a row. In June this year, we saw the the highest ever number of reported uses of restrictive interventions in inpatient units – 3,075 restrictive interventions, 770 of which were against children. This is the second month that NHS Digital has failed to publish this data when we need transparency about what is happening in these institutions. We know the human cost of this from our work with families of children, young people and adults who are subjected to inappropriate physical restraint, overmedication and being kept in isolation when trapped in these units. It is indefensible that there is no national plan for how the Government and NHS England will address this domestic human rights scandal. We know what works but we need funds and resources directed towards building up the support in the community that children and adults with a learning disability and/or autism need.  There is clear evidence from a range of sources that the system is broken and causing people harm.  We urgently need a clear plan of action from Government about how they fix it that is prioritised across Government and delivered.”

Sue Battin, mother of Joe who was locked away hundreds of miles away from home in the inpatient unit Whorlton Hall, said:  

“I cannot believe anyone in NHS England and the Government believe that plans for the 40 bed, low secure unit next to the high security prison in Liverpool is appropriate to meet the needs of vulnerable people with learning disabilities at a time they need extra support by people who know them well in their local area. This move just shows they have not listened to people like my son, who have lived through the horrendous experience of being sent hundreds of miles from family and friends at a very difficult time in their lives and their families.

“We know first-hand that small local specialist services need to be available to people when they need it so they can stay close to their family and the team who support them. This would also enable people to return to their home instead of people being trapped in these large hospital settings. This is a disgrace. It will just reinforce people’s views that people with complex needs need to be locked away. I am horrified and concerned that people in positions of power believe this to be acceptable.” 

This is the second month where NHS Digital has not published data on restrictive practices in inpatient units. In June, there was the highest ever recorded number of reported uses of restrictive interventions e.g. physical and chemical restraint - over 3,000 in one month, 770 of which were against children.   


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 eight years ago.
  2. The Assuring Transformation data from NHS Digital in this PDF 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.  
  3. Figures for restrictive practices quoted from NHS Digital MHSDS Data: March 2019, published June 2019.   
  4. On 5th August 2019, the Government announced £1.8 billion funding for the NHS including £33 million funding for Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust to provide a new 40 bed low secure unit for people with learning disabilities. See Gov.uk.
  5. The CQC gave the following statement in response to a request for comment from the Health Service Journal on the announcement that Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust had been awarded funding to provide a new 40 bed low secure unit for people with learning disabilities: “We will be seeking clarification from Mersey Care about exactly what kind of unit this will be and how it supports the agreed national policy to move away from large institutional styles of accommodation.” The HSJ article was published on 14th August.
  6. 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.

About Mencap

There are over 1.4 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-3pm, Monday-Friday) or email helpline@mencap.org.uk.     

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.