The health minister, Matt Hancock, also confirmed that all 2,250 people with a learning disability and/or autism who are locked away in inpatient units will have their care plan reviewed over the next twelve months.

He also announced that an independent panel, chaired by Baroness Sheila Hollins, will be established to oversee the case reviews of those who are in long term segregation in inpatient units to further drive improvements.

Paula McGowan and Mencap respond to the Department of Health and Social Care’s announcements.

Paula McGowan, Oliver’s mother and campaigner, said:

“My son, Oliver, died an avoidable death contributed by what we believe to be staff not understanding his autism and mild learning disabilities. It was obvious during his inquest that medics had no understanding of his additional needs and how to make even the most basic of reasonable adjustments. As a consequence, I launched a parliamentary petition asking for all doctors and nurses to receive mandatory training in autism and learning disability awareness. Last year, my petition was debated and gained cross party support,  as a direct consequence Government has made an announcement on the training today.

“We have never had mandatory training like this before and I believe that this is a very important first step in addressing the inequalities of health care and premature deaths in people who have autism and learning disabilities.

“From the start, I had made it clear that I was doing this in Oliver’s name and wanted the training to be named after him, this is his legacy. Today, Government has honoured this wish and I am incredibly grateful.”

Leroy Binns, Mencap spokesperson and Treat me well campaigner who has a learning disability, said:

“We launched our Treat me well campaign to help save lives by improving how the NHS treats people with a learning disability in hospital. From the start of the campaign, we’ve been calling for all doctors and nurses to have learning disability training before stepping onto a hospital ward.

"That’s why we’re pleased that the government will be making learning disability training mandatory for all health and social care staff. I hope that the government will include people with a learning disability, like me, in developing the training to make sure it makes a difference.

"People with a learning disability should not face a life cut short, we have a right to the same healthcare as everyone else.”

Oonagh Smyth, Executive Director at learning disability charity Mencap, said: 

1,200 people with a learning disability die avoidably each year when timely access to good quality healthcare could have saved them. We welcome the government’s commitment to funding the pilot and roll out of this much needed training. We hope that health professionals being aware of the vital changes to practice they can make will help end the scandal of avoidable deaths. As we approach the anniversary of Oliver McGowan’s death on Armistice Day, it is fitting that this training be named in honour of him and his family who have fought so hard for answers about his death and continue to campaign for wider change to prevent avoidable deaths of people with a learning disability and autism.

“However, this training alone won’t solve the crisis of people with a learning disability being locked away in inpatient units. It won’t address the lack of inadequate social care funding which means that 2,250 children and adults with a learning disability and/or autism continue to be locked away at increased risk of abuse and neglect, on average for over 5 years, and each month more people are being admitted. Whilst we welcome Baroness Sheila Hollins appointment to review the cases where the appalling use of long term segregation has been used against people with a learning disability, this will not fix the issue at the heart of this crisis: the lack of social care funding. What we need is urgent investment in social care to ensure that there is the right support and housing available in our communities so that people aren’t admitted into these modern day asylums in the first place and that those who are currently locked away can get out of these institutions and back home into their communities and close to their loved ones. This human rights scandal has to end.”


For further information, contact Mencap’s media team on: or 020 7696 5414 (including out of hours).      

Notes to editors   

About Mencap

There are approximately 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-3pm, 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.