• At least 2,170 people with a learning disability/autism continue to be locked away in inpatient units, of which 1,935 are adults and 235 children 
  • Little change in the number of admissions - with 95 admissions in February
  • Discharge delays continue – 135 people with a learning disability / autism who should be back home in their community
  • An increased number of reported uses of restrictive inventions – 3,535 in one month, of which 755 were against children. This is likely to be just the “tip of the iceberg” as only data for 4 out of 15 private/independent providers and 27 out of 56 NHS providers.
  • The average total length of stay in in-patient units is 5.5 years.

According to data released today from NHS Digital, 2,170 people with a learning disability and/or autism remain locked away in inpatient units in February, a decrease of  15 on  the previous month. At least 1,930 adults and 235 children continue to be locked away.  

This data follows publication of the Government’s Emergency Coronavirus Bill which makes provision for changes to the 2014 Care Act and application of the Mental Health Act. This proposes relieving local authorities of their full duties so that they can prioritise the cases they deem most urgent by delaying assessments or not meeting assessed needs in full, and relaxing rules to enable one doctor rather than two to detain people under the Mental Health Act. 

Charities, advocacy groups, families and MPs have expressed concerns that, while emergency legislation is needed to address the Covid-19 pandemic, if used, the changes to the Care Act and Mental Health Act risk leaving vulnerable people unable to access the social care they need and at increased risk of being locked away in inpatient units.

Today’s NHS Digital data shows little change in the number of admissions with 95 people admitted in February alone. At least 135 people remain in hospital when they are ready for discharge, with the main reasons being a lack of social care and housing provision in the community.  

The urgency remains for government to publish a robust cross-government strategy to ensure that health, social care, education and housing work together to stop inappropriate admissions and get people out of inpatient units. The current Government and NHS England target is to reduce the number of people with a learning disability and/or autism locked away in inpatients units by at least 35% by the end March 2020 – a target which latest figures indicate they are likely to miss.

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

“We understand the need for emergency measures in the short-term response to the Covid-19 pandemic, however, any measures taken must have the interests and safety of the most vulnerable in our society at its heart. We need urgent assurances from Government that these emergency changes to the Care Act and Mental Health Act, if used, will not result in more people with a learning disability falling through the gap when it comes to accessing vital social care support and that we do not end up with more people with a learning disability and/or autism locked away in inpatient units. Figures out today show that there are still over 2000 people with a learning disability and/or autism locked away in inpatient units, often hundreds of miles away from their families. Should emergency powers be used, we want a commitment from the Government that once this crisis period passes that there will be an urgent review into any changes to the care packages of people with a learning disability. While the Chancellor of the Exchequer has promised “anything it takes” for the NHS, the social care sector also needs urgent emergency funding to help meet demand and keep people safe during this crisis. The health, care and quality of life of people with a learning disability must be prioritised in both the short and the long term.”

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

“Over 2000 people with a learning disability and/or autism remain in inpatient units at significant risk of human rights abuses. The current Coronavirus outbreak is exacerbating this already difficult situation for many individuals and their families and the Government must provide assurance that this group is on their agenda as a high-risk vulnerable population. It is important that there is proactive planning to address issues that will arise in care, support and services due to the pandemic. 
“The coming weeks and months will be very difficult, and we will likely see staff shortages, fewer inspections, closed services and restricted family visits - a combination that equates to a breeding ground for increased restrictive practice, overmedication and poor support. There is also a risk of increased admissions due to emergency changes to the Care Act and the rules around sectioning under the Mental Health Act, just when the opposite should be happening.
“We are calling on the Government to protect the rights of people with a learning disability and/or autism in the Emergency Coronavirus Bill. There is an opportunity now to prioritise robust measures to support and protect individuals and their families and ensure that there are no backwards steps in a Transforming Care programme that has made such painfully slow progress.”


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 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 2,170 at the end of February 2020:  https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/learning-disability-services-statistics/provisional-statistics-at-february-2020-mhsds-december-2019-final
  3. Figures for restrictive practices quoted from NHS Digital MHSDS Data: December 2019, published March 2020. For more information visit: https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/learning-disability-services-statistics/provisional-statistics-at-february-2020-mhsds-december-2019-final
  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. 

Visit www.mencap.org.uk.

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.

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