Warnings that people with learning disabilities and/or autism may be delayed in getting out of asylums due to pandemic

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 modern-day asylums, where they are at increased risk of abuse and neglect. 

At least 2,100 people with with a learning disability and/or autism are still locked away in inpatient units, of which 220 are children.


The figures are despite an ongoing UK Government and NHS England programme to transform care by closing 50 per cent 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.

“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,” emphasises Jackie O’Sullivan, executive director of communications, advocacy and activism at the learning disability charity Mencap.

“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,” Jackie continues.

“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.”

Mencap and the CBF are urging 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.


Further figures from NHS Digital released today (17 September) also highlight that there has been little change in the number of admissions, with 80 admissions registered in August of this year.

Additionally, the total length of stay in a modern asylum or inpatient unit is estimated to be 5.6 years – where many people may or do experience acts of violence and abuse.

3,860 recorded instances of restrictive interventions (like physical, prone, mechanical and chemical restraint) were recorded as 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 two 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.


A spokesperson from CBF adds: “Data published today (17 September) 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.”

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