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Charities call for government action on people with learning disability and autism ‘locked away’ in inpatient units

Mencap and Challenging Behaviour Foundation say more than 2,000 service users in England – including 230 children – continue to be sectioned under Mental Health Act 

Mencap and Challenging Behaviour Foundation say more than 2,000 service users in England – including 230 children – continue to be sectioned under Mental Health Act  


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Learning disability charities have called on the government to act over children and adults being ‘locked away’ in inpatient units.

Mencap and the Challenging Behaviour Foundation made the call after analysing NHS Digital data on the health of people with learning disabilities in 2018-19.

The data included information about patients with learning disabilities and/or autistic spectrum disorder (LDA) receiving inpatient care commissioned by the NHS in England.

The charities said at least 2,185 people with LDA, including 230 children, continue to be ‘locked away in inpatient units’.

Mencap states that people with LDA cannot get out of inpatient units because they are often sectioned under the Mental Health Act 1983 (amended 2003).

The data from NHS Digital collected for LDA inpatients at the end of December 2019 shows that:

  • 2,185 inpatients were in hospital at the end of the reporting period.
  • Of those in hospital at the end of December 2019, 1,255 (57%) had a total length of stay of more than two years.
  • The charities also reported restrictive interventions were used over 3,000 times in one month, with 910 against children.


Dan Scorer

Mencap head of policy and public affairs Dan Scorer said the data shows a ‘worrying loss of momentum with a net reduction of just five people with a learning disability and/or autism coming out of inpatient units’ in December compared to November.

Mr Scorer added that such a small reduction was an indication that NHS England was ‘highly unlikely to meet its own target of a 35% decrease by March 2020’.

NHS England was contacted for comment.

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