From education to employment

Detention of children and young people with learning disabilities and / or autism

Human Rights Committee ATUs evidence from Minister Carline Dinenage.



  • Caroline Dinenage MP, Minister of State for Care, Department of Health and Social Care
  • Jonathan Marron, Director General, Community and Social Care, Department of Health and Social Care  

The Committee is undertaking an inquiry into the inappropriate placement of children and adults with learning disabilities and/or autism in mental health hospitals, and the threat that such placements pose to their human rights. The draft call for evidence for the inquiry seeks views on:

• Whether the Government’s Transforming Care programme, which aims to significantly reduce the number of those detained inappropriately, has been successful; and, if not, why not.

• If it has not been successful what needs to be done to ensure that the numbers detained are reduced more rapidly.

• Whether the human rights of people with learning disabilities and/or autism who are detained in mental health hospitals are being breached.

• If, so how are they breached and what needs to be done to better protect them

At this session the Committee has the opportunity to put the evidence it has heard to the Minister Caroline Dinenage and question her about what the Government is doing to ensure that its revised  target to reduce the number of people with learning disabilities and autism who are detained (including children and young people) is met.


On 12 December 2018 the Committee heard from witnesses with learning disabilities and/or autism who had firsthand experience of detention, and also from families whose loved ones have been detained. The transcript can be accessed here.


On 9 January 2019 the Committee heard from NHS England who fund these placements, and the Care Quality Commission who are responsible for inspecting the units. The transcript is here.


On 27 March 2019 the Committee questioned, policy and legal experts about these matters. The transcript is available here.


In the wake of the Winterbourne View scandal in 2011 it became clear that many people with a learning disability and/ or autism are detained in mental health hospitals inappropriately. The Department of Health’s national policy response, Transforming Care committed to significantly reduce the numbers. However, despite some progress they remain stubbornly high:

  • At the end of October 2018 2,350 people were in learning disability and autism inpatient settings down from 2,865 in March 2015 58% of whom had been there for a period of over 2 years.
  • The number of under 18s in these settings have more than doubled to 250 since March 2015 when there were only 110.
  • Concerns have been raised in evidence about high and rising levels of restraint and solitary confinement in these institutions.  In 2016, people were recorded as being subjected to restraint on 15,065 occasions. In 2017 this figure had increased by exactly 50%, to 22,620 restraint ‘episodes’. If the projected figures for 2018 are right, the number of times people are restrained is set to increase even further, to 25,812 episodes.
  • In March 2017 the NAO published its assessment of the Transforming Care Programme.
  • In Dec 2018 the National Autistic Society published its report called Beyond Transforming Care: what needs to change?
  • Kevin Healey’s petition on the parliament website calling for “an end to the detention of people who are autistic or have a learning disability in mental health hospitals”

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