image of Tweet from the Care Quality Commission on mental health services

The Care Quality Commission (CQC), which regulates health and care services in England, has published a damning report into mental health services for autistic people and people with a learning disability.

State of Care is an annual report into health and care services in England. Each year, it identifies what the most important issues are. This year, the focus is the scandal of autistic people being stuck in mental health hospitals, often far from their homes and families.

The CQC found that difficulties in getting the right care at the right time, near where they live, means that autistic people and people with a learning disability end up detained in hospital. This backs up our recent research and Not Enough campaign. More than two in three autistic adults told us that they don’t get the support they need. People told us that when they reached out for mental health support, there weren’t enough services in their area and that the process of getting support took too long. Without this vital support, autistic people can find themselves in crisis.

Too many autistic people end up in mental health hospitals, often because there’s simply nowhere else to go. The CQC’s report highlights some really worrying findings about declining standards in these “specialist inpatient services”:

  • 10% of inpatient services for people who are autistic and/or have a learning disability were rated inadequate, compared to 1% in 2018
  • 7% of child and adolescent mental health inpatient services were rated inadequate, compared to 3% in 2018
  • 8% of acute wards for adults of working age and psychiatric intensive care units were rated inadequate, compared to 2% in 2018.

Since October 2018, 14 independent mental health hospitals that admit autistic people or people with a learning disability have been rated inadequate by the CQC. Although the CQC said they have seen some good examples of care, they have also seen people being looked after by staff who don’t understand autism and good autism practice.

We, alongside autistic people, families and other organisations, have been highlighting the concerning number of autistic people in these hospitals and the quality of the care they receive for a long time. We’ve been promised this will be addressed for years, but things haven’t changed. This is unacceptable. The Government’s new autism strategy must tackle this once and for all, making sure that all autistic people get the support they need, from professionals who understand autism.

Jane Harris, Director of External Affairs at the National Autistic Society, said: "Today’s report confirms what thousands of autistic people have told us - that they are being failed by the mental health and social care systems.

“A recent inquiry by MPs and peers, alongside our charity, found that more than two in three autistic adults are not getting the social care or mental health support they need. People are struggling to get support, becoming isolated and developing often avoidable mental health problems.

“When autistic people find themselves in crisis, there’s often no local support for them. So they’re ending up in A&E or mental health hospitals, where they may be treated by professionals who have little or no training in autism. If you’re autistic, being in hospital can be traumatic in itself – let alone in these circumstances.

“The mental health system just isn’t equipped to support autistic people. This is simply not good enough. The Government must use this year’s new autism strategy to put in mental health support for autistic people across the country.”

Further information

  • Read more stories about autistic people who’ve been stuck in inpatient care in our Transforming Care: our stories report and find out about the extent of the scandal in our Beyond Transforming Care report.
  • For information about what to do if an autistic family member is at risk or has been admitted to or discharged from a mental health hospital, visit our page on autism and mental health.
  • Bringing us Together have produced this very useful Survival Guide for care and treatment reviews.
  • The All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism, with support from our charity, held an inquiry into the state of support and services for autistic people in England – 10 years on from the Autism Act.
  • In early 2020 we will launch our Autism Inpatient Mental Health Advice and Casework service. Right now, we’re starting recruitment. You can read more and apply on our website.