NHS Digital data shows the number of children and adults with learning disabilities in inpatient units remain high

“Data published today 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." 


  • At least 2,100 children, young people and adults with a learning disability and/ or autism remained in inpatient units at the end of August 2020.
  • 220 children with a learning disability and/or autism remain in inpatient units.
  • There has been little change in the number of admissions with 80 admissions in August 2020
  • The average total length of stay in inpatient units is 6 years. 
  • 3,860 recorded instances of restrictive interventions (including physical, prone, mechanical and chemical restraint) were used in June 2020, of which620 were against children. This is likely to be just the “tip of the iceberg” as only data for 2 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 the Challenging Behaviour Foundation said:

“Data published today 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.”

Jackie O’Sullivan, Executive Director of Communications, Advocacy and Activism at the learning disability charity Mencap, said:

“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. 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. 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.”

Find the NHS Digital data here

View the infographic here

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If you support someone with a severe learning disability whose behaviour challenges you can contact the CBF Family Support service on 0300 666 0126 or email us at

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