There are still 2,040 autistic people and people with learning disabilities in inpatient mental health hospitals, according to the latest NHS Digital data and of these 1,150 (56%) are autistic.

The National Autistic Society (NAS) says this figure is unacceptable as autism is not a mental health condition and hospital isn’t the right place for the vast majority of autistic people, who should be supported in their own communities and near their families and friends. 

The charity added that it will continue holding the Government to account on its promises and fighting for the changes needed to put this right. This includes the promise to close 35-50% of inpatient beds for autistic people with or without a learning disability by the end of May 2019 and ensure the right support is developed in communities.

Ten years since Winterbourne View Scandal

In 2011 shocking abuse was uncovered at Winterbourne View Hospital, an inpatient unit for people with learning disabilities. This scandal led to the acknowledgement that there is a significant number of autistic people, those with a learning disability or both, stuck, inappropriately, in inpatient settings – largely because services to support them in the community simply do not exist. 

Further reading

Ten years on, over 1,000 autistic children and adults continue to be in inpatient mental health hospitals in England. In some cases, people are stuck for many years, many miles from home and even face overmedication, seclusion and unnecessary restraint.

The Assuring Transformation NHS Digital data provides the most accurate and up-to-date record of how many autistic people and people with learning disabilities, both adults and children, are currently in inpatient units in England. It also shows how long they have been in for, when their care and treatment is checked and what kind of unit they are in.

The charity said that despite some progress moving people with a learning disability out of hospital and into the community, the number of autistic people in inpatients facilities has increased. In 2015, autistic people made up 38% of the number in hospital, now it is 56%. This is unacceptable and just should not be happening. 

As part of their campaign for better support and services, NAS are helping autistic people and families who are detained or at risk of detention directly, via its Autism Inpatient Mental Health Casework Service for England.

Reform of the Mental Health Act

The charity added: "The Government recently announced important plans to reform the Mental Health Act, which could stop people being sectioned just because they’re autistic. This is a big step forward.

"But the Government and NHS also need to first stop autistic people reaching crisis point in the first place. This means investing in better social care and mental health services that actually meet the needs of autistic children and adults.  

"And if someone is admitted into hospital, it’s essential that this is for as short a time as possible and that they’re supported by people who understand autism, in an environment that reflects their needs."