People with learning disabilities are missing out on health checks

Half of people with learning disabilities who have a GP in England do not attend an annual health check – and many more have no doctor at all.

Half of people with learning disabilities who are registered with a GP in England do not attend an annual health check – and many more have no doctor at all.

Kevin Elliott said GP commitment to the health checks is increasing.  Picture: Neil O'Connor

NHS England clinical lead Kevin Elliott told the Learning Disability Practice conference 2017 in Manchester that just 49% of those people who are registered attended check-ups with a nurse and doctor in 2014-15.

NHS uptake target

NHS England has set a target of 75% attendance by 2020 for the 252,446 people with learning disabilities who are registered with a doctor.

But the charity Mencap said the challenge of ensuring everyone who has a learning disability aged 14 and over benefits from an annual health review is complex, because it estimates 900,000 people with a learning disability do not appear on any register.

Mencap campaign

Lloyd Page and Sarah Coleman from Mencap outlined the Don’t Miss Out campaign, which aims to encourage as many people with learning disabilities as possible to make use of the health checks.

Mr Page, who has a learning disability himself, told the conference how a friend had died of cancer after diagnosis of her condition was complicated by her learning disabilities. The friend died before the annual health checks were introduced in 2008, to address health inequalities.

Ms Coleman said: ‘Where health checks do happen, we know they work. They can identify illnesses and prevent unnecessary hospital admissions. They are a good thing and we want them to happen more.’

About 75% of GP practices currently offer the service.

The practice nurse's contribution to the health check can include:

  • A general physical examination, including checking weight, heart rate, blood pressure and taking blood and urine samples.
  • Assessment of behaviour, including asking questions about lifestyle and mental health.
  • Screening for epilepsy.
  • Investigating the prescribed medicines the person is taking.
  • Reviewing whether any chronic conditions are being managed effectively.
  • A review of any arrangements with other healthcare professionals, such as physiotherapists or speech therapists.

Mr Elliott said: ‘We are getting increasing commitment from GPs, but if they don’t offer one, the question is: "is this the right GP for me"?’

Action plan toolkit

He said it was important that nurses and GPs use the NHS England toolkit to produce a health check action plan.

‘These should include: what was checked, what will be checked, what the doctor will do in the year coming,’ said Mr Elliott.

He emphasised the need to explain issues simply during the check-ups, and to check understanding.


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