• NHS England’s Transforming Care programme, due to end in March 2019, aims to bring to an end the over-reliance on inpatient mental health hospitals for people on the autism spectrum or with a learning disability.
  • Yesterday’s important debate, brought forward by Rt Hon Norman Lamb MP, considered whether progress had been made and the future of this programme.
  • Several MPs raised the challenges faced by autistic people who are stuck in mental health hospitals, highlighting that the number of autistic people in these hospitals has increased during Transforming Care.

Norman Lamb

Backbench Business Committee debate: Future of the Transforming Care programme

We were pleased to see this important issue debated today in the House of Commons. Several MPs attended in particular to raise the issues faced by autistic people trying to get the right support. Amongst those who were able to attend and contribute were Dame Cheryl Gillan, Helen Hayes, Luciana Berger, Ronnie Cowan, and Jim Shannon.

Norman Lamb began today’s debate by highlighting the fact that many individuals and families have been severely let down by the system. He and all the MPs who attended reflected that it has been seven years since Panorama uncovered horrific abuse at Winterbourne View. Progress since then has not been fast enough, he said.

Latest data shows that there are still 2,400 people in institutions, many of whom are far away from their homes and families, Lamb highlighted. Particularly concerning, is the fact that the number of children, who are in patients, has doubled.  He asked the Minister to confirm what would happen when the Transforming Care programme concludes in March 2019. In particular he asked whether she would set up a joint ministerial taskforce, which other MPs also joined in calling for. The National Autistic Society supports this proposal.

Dame Cheryl Gillan, Chair of the APPG on Autism spoke specifically on the issues faced by autistic people within the Transforming Care programme. She highlighted that 48% of those covered by the programme are autistic, which has increased by a third since March 2015. Dame Cheryl stated clearly that, if the Transforming Care programme does not work for autistic people, it will not work. She also asked why community services are not yet meeting autistic people’s needs, to prevent them being admitted to hospital.

Cheryl Gillian

Helen Hayes expressed concern over the way in which the progress of Transforming Care has been implemented and how we need “homes, not hospital”. She spoke about the case of her constituent, Matthew Garnett, who is autistic and spent two years in a mental health hospital far from home. Matthew’s mum, Isabelle wrote a blog for us about Matthew’s story yesterday.

Ronnie Cowan MP, stressed the importance of considering the individuals and families behind statistics, and reflected on the situation in Scotland, which is not covered by Transforming Care. Paula Sherriff MP, responding for the Opposition, reminded MPs that the average length of stay in hospital has remained largely the same, over five years, and that discharges to the community have gone down in the last year rather than up. She also called for increases in social care funding, to support people better outside of hospital.

In response, Caroline Dinenage MP, Care Minister stated that “the Mandate from the Government to NHS England is clear: the NHS has to tackle health inequality of people on the autism spectrum or with a learning disability.” She committed to taking forward concerns raised by Norman Lamb, confirming that the Review of the Mental Health Act will look at the definition of mental disorder for autism and learning disability. She also stated that there are plans for a successor programme, although she wasn’t able to give more details yet.

Caroline Dinenage

We’d like to thank the MPs who attended the debate. We will continue to campaign with them for better mental health and community support for autistic people.

Many of the stories that MPs raised in the debate featured in our Transforming Care: our stories report. You can find out more about the issue and what the National Autistic Society believes needs to change, in the report.