70,000 people with learning disabilities not having a health check, figures show

More than 70,000 people with learning disabilities did not receive a health check, according to new data released by Public Health England.
Annual health checks

More than 70,000 people with learning disabilities did not receive a health check in 2014/15, according to new data released by Public Health England.

Out of the 197,451 people eligible for the free annual health check from their GP, only 124,785 actually received one in 2014/15.

University of Huddersfield senior lecturer in learning disability nursing Stacey Atkinson said the figures were concerning.

‘But it is an opportunity for health professionals to work in collaboration with learning disability nurses to find out who needs these health assessments,’ she said.

Ms Atkinson said GPs could learn how to engage best with people with learning disabilities to have health checks and action plans.

‘Perhaps many GPs are not aware there is a professional body of learning disability nurses who can help to meet the needs of this group?’

There is great regional variation in the coverage of eligible people receiving learning disability health checks.

The overall coverage of 63.2% people across England is the highest since checks began in 2008/9.

Out of 13 NHS England health areas, the range was substantial: from only 32% in Wessex to 81% in Cheshire and Merseyside.

RCN professional lead for learning disability nursing Ann Norman said: ‘This is a task for NHS England to get its head around – it should be one of its big priorities to figure out what makes one area much more successful than another?

‘Some GP practices are really on the ball and others are not.’

Ms Norman added that those with mild learning disabilities could easily slip through the net.

‘It does feel like an uphill journey: I don’t want to diminish the importance of any progress, but 70,000 people are still not getting any health checks.'

Mencap head of policy Dan Scorer said it was also concerning fewer than half (43%) of people receiving health checks received a health action plan.

He added: ‘People with a learning disability are at a higher risk of health conditions like epilepsy, diabetes, heart problems and mental health problems - 1,200 people with a learning disability die avoidably in the NHS every year.

‘Annual health checks are a vital mechanism [to] ensure conditions are diagnosed and properly treated and managed at the earliest possible stage.’

An RCN report published in February revealed the total number of learning disability nurses in the NHS has fallen by a third since 2010 – a reduction of 1,726 nurses.