Over 2000 people with a learning

disability and/or autism still locked away in inpatient unit while

emergency coronavirus bill risks more being admitted


encap call for urgent action and emergency investment in social care to stop more children and adults with a learning disability and/or autism being admitted into inpatient units during the Covid-19 pandemic

According to data released 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. NHS Digital’s 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 of 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.”

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

20 Ability Needs Magazine

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