The government has set out new plans on how to improve care for people with learning disabilities and autism and reduce reliance on mental health inpatient care in a new report: Building the Right Support Action Plan.

Ultimately, the aim is to offer better and more focused community care and prevent unnecessary admissions to inpatient facilities. The government says this will ensure that people with learning disabilities and autism are kept safe and treated with dignity and respect, while simultaneously supported to live an independent life in their own home.

£91 million funding package to speed up discharge and improve crisis support

The plan is being supported by £91 million of targeted funding throughout 2022/23. This includes:

  • A £40 million investment from the NHS Long Term Plan to continue to improve the capacity and capability of crisis support for autistic people and people with a learning disability in every area of the country;
  • £30 million of funding to continue putting keyworkers in place for children and young people with the most complex needs; and
  • A £21m Community Discharge Grant to local authorities which will help people with a learning disability and autistic people to be discharged from inpatient units.

In addition, the government will reform the Mental Health Act in order to improve how learning disabled and autistic people are treated in law and limit the scope under which they can be detained. This includes the proposal in the draft Mental Health Bill that neither a learning disability or autism can be considered mental health disorders requiring compulsory treatment.

Health and care staff will also receive specialist training to ensure they have the skills to better care for people with a learning disability and autistic people.

Inpatient facilities are here to stay but quality of care will improve

While inpatient facilities will not be eradicated entirely, the plan seeks to improve the quality of care that people receive while they are there. This includes following care review recommendations, reducing restrictive practices and offering targeted support for people in long-term segregation.

There is also proposed new duties on commissioners to ensure there are the right community-based services in their area and there is better monitoring of risk of crisis at a local level. 

By introducing these measures, the government plans to reduce the number of learning disabled and autistic people in specialist inpatient care by 50% by March 2024 compared with the same period in 2015.

System failings and a lack of community support have kept learning disabled and autistic people in inpatient facilities “for too long”

The plan also states that the government will offer better support from birth, which could prevent unnecessary inpatient admissions. This includes supporting the delivery of the Long Term Plan’s commitment to improve autism diagnosis pathways for children and young people.

Minister for Care and Mental Health Gillian Keegan said: “For too long autistic people and people with a learning disability have remained as inpatients in mental health units not necessarily because it was the best place but because of failings in the system and a lack of community facilities to support them.

“I am committed to driving further, faster progress to ensure people with a learning disability and autistic people, of all ages, receive high quality health and social care support in their communities when they need it.”