May 16, 2018

Accessible Summary: Women with learning disabilities living on locked wards

Rebecca Fish

In 2012, I spent time in three of women’s wards in an NHS learning disability secure unit. I wrote a book about it called ‘Locked Away’.

I asked women what they liked about living here, and what they did not like. I also talked to staff. This is what I found out:

Life experiences 

Women told me about some of their bad experiences before coming to the unit. Sometimes, when they came to live in services, they had not been told they were staying, and they felt scared again.


Day Services

  • Women liked some of the day-services and everybody said something good about activities.
  • Women wanted more activities that would help them to learn skills for the future.
  • They wanted to do more things in the community, such as swimming and cycling.
  • Some women wanted to learn more creative things such as cooking and sign language.
  • They also wanted to do caring activities including looking after animals and helping older people.

Evening Activities

  • Women said that they would like more things to do in the evening.
  • Everybody liked the women-only activities, and some said they would like to have mixed social time as well.


Restraint by staff. Image by ChangeRelationships with staff

  • Lots of women said that relationships with staff were the best thing about the unit.
  • They told me that staff were ‘friends’, ‘caring’ and ‘listening’, and gave help and support.
  • Staff knew about people’s problems and wanted to help them move on to the community.
  • Both staff and residents told me that trusting each other was very important.


  • emotional support, friends chattingSome of the women told me that they did not like some people they live with. They said that ward meetings were helpful when people were arguing.
  • Some women told me they need more help and advice with friendships. They wanted staff to support their friendships when people had moved wards.

Sexual relationships

  • Many people said they did not know the rules when it came to sexual relationships.
  • Most of the women wanted to have a special relationship.
  • Some women were confused about their sexuality and needed some help with this.

Family relationships

  • Some people had family members that they didn’t want to see, but also family members that they did.
  • Staff helped them to keep in contact with their family. Some women told me they want some members of their family to be more involved with the unit.
  • Many women spent time thinking and worrying about family members, but they lived too far away to visit. Special occasions were very difficult times to be away from family.


  • Some women told me that they had used self-harm for a long time.
  • They told me that they self-harmed because of arguments with friends, bad memories, and worrying about family.
  • They did not like being on a special observation level.
  • They thought that staff should talk to them when they were on a level, and that staff should think about privacy when women are in the bath or on the toilet.

Physical intervention (restraint)

  • Everybody said they did not like physical intervention, and people did not like being restrained when other residents were present.
  • Some women said that physical intervention caused them to remember bad events from their pasts.
  • Residents wanted more information about physical intervention. They wanted to know when it will be used and how long for.
  • Staff should talk to women during physical intervention, but not make jokes.
  • There would be less need for physical intervention if residents were allowed more time to talk to staff about why they are angry.


  • Women did not like being secluded. They thought the seclusion room was cold and uncomfortable and they wanted more privacy.
  • They wanted information about seclusion, when it is used and how long for.
  • Many people wanted another room where they could talk to staff about what makes them angry.


Moving onChoice House

  • People wanted to move on and return to the community. They wanted help and support to do this.
  • They wanted to be trusted more. They wanted staff to tell them when they are doing well.
  • They had lots of plans for their future in the community, like finding a job, seeing family and friends and going on holiday.

I want to say thank you to everybody who helped with this research.

Featured images are by CHANGE

Rebecca Fish

Rebecca Fish

Rebecca Fish