The local NHS is working across Portsmouth and south east Hampshire to increase the number of people with learning disabilities (LDs) who take up their free health-checks.
People with learning disabilities have poorer physical and mental health compared to others – but this doesn’t need to be the case.
The NHS wants to address this health inequality by encouraging far more people with an LD to be registered on their GP learning disability register – giving them the chance to access more support and have an annual health check, which might detect health conditions which otherwise go unnoticed.
People aged 14 and over who have been assessed as having moderate, severe or profound learning disabilities, or people with a mild learning disability who have other complex health needs, are entitled to the free check.
People with learning disabilities often have difficulty in recognising illness, communicating their needs and using health services.
But research shows that regular health checks can uncovers health conditions which can be simple to treat and make them feel better - while sometimes serious illnesses are found at an early stage when they can be treated.
Three clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) – who between them plan and commission health services for more than 600,000 people – are working with the two major NHS community health service providers on the initiative.
The five organisations involved are HNS Portsmouth CCG, NHS South Eastern Hampshire CCG, NHS Fareham and Gosport CCG, Solent NHS Trust and Southern Health NHS Trust.
They are mounting a three-pronged publicity campaign aimed at people with learning disabilities, their families/carers and staff in GP practices.
The initiative is in response to NHS England’s Learning Disability Programme and the launch of a new ‘National Electronic Health Check (Learning Disabilities) Clinical Template’ produced for GPs to use when providing the annual health check for people with a LD.
Dr Andrew Holden, the primary care lead for SEH CCG, said: “Great strides have been made by a number of practices in terms of providing health checks to patients with learning disabilities, but some practices still have some way to go. The first step is to ensure that patients with a learning disability are on the LD Register, which isn’t always the case. We then need to ensure that practices are adding new ‘additional information – or AI – to a patient’s Summary Care Record (SCR).
“This will really help improve quality of care for patients when and if they are treated by other services, including emergency and urgent care – which may in turn results in fewer calls back to surgeries, freeing up valuable staff time and resources and maximising efficiency across the NHS.”
An SCR, a short summary of a patient’s GP medical records, gives information to health and care staff including medicines and allergies.
Dr Nick Moore, the new LD lead for Portsmouth CCG, said: “People with learning disabilities can get extra support when visiting their doctor, but we need to ensure they are on the LD register for them to access this support. They, or a relative or carer, should check with the receptionist at their doctor’s surgery if they are on the register, and, if they are not, ask for an appointment to have a free health check.
“At this health check, your doctor will take a closer look at how you are doing, making sure you are healthy and stay healthy, and updating your Summary Care Record so that any NHS or care staff who treat you in future will know about any medicines you take or allergies you suffer from. The doctor can also provide advice on lifestyle choices, such as diet, stop smoking support or contraception.”
The annual health check is also a chance for the person to get used to going to their GP practice, which reduces their fear of going at other times.
It will involve a general physical examination, including checking their weight, heart rate, blood pressure and taking blood and urine samples; asking questions about their lifestyle, and mental health; a check for epilepsy; a check on their prescribed medication; a check on whether any chronic illnesses, such as asthma or diabetes, are being well managed; and a review of any arrangements with other health professionals, such as physiotherapists or speech therapists.
If the person's learning disability has a specific cause, the GP or practice nurse will often do extra tests for particular health risks. For people with Down's syndrome, for example, they may do a test to see whether their thyroid is working properly.
If you have a learning disability you can get extra support when visiting the doctor. To get extra support you need to be on the learning disability register. Use this letter or tell your doctor you have a learning disability and would like to be added to the register. Once on the register you can have a free Annual Health Check to make sure you stay fit and healthy.
Your Summary Care Record is a short summary of your GP medical records. With your permission it tells other health and care staff (who care for you) about the medicines you take, any allergies and your needs. This includes people who treat you in an emergency and in routine scheduled care (such as hospital appointments). Tell your doctor they can add more information to your record so you don’t miss out.
Families and carers of individuals with a learning disability:
Someone with a learning disability can get extra support when visiting their doctor – all you or they have to do is ask for their name to be added to the learning disability register. You can help them do this by talking to their doctor’s surgery or use this template letter. Once on the register they can have an Annual Health Check to help them stay fit and healthy.
Care for someone with a learning disability? Don’t let them miss out
There are lots of reasons why they should have their Annual Health Check, including:
The Royal College of General Practitioners has also produced a Health Checks for People with Learning Disabilities toolkit.