Learning disability GP health checks 'show results'

A GP checking a patient's blood pressure Image copyright SATURN STILLS/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

A scheme getting GPs to offer health checks to patients with learning disabilities in England is helping to pick up problems, research suggests.

A study in Lancet Psychiatry, looking at data for more than 8,000 patients, found surgeries in the scheme were twice as likely to identify problems.

But many patients who are entitled to the checks are still missing out.

The Down's Syndrome Association said there was a lack of awareness that the health checks were available.

Learning disability health checks were introduced in 2008 through GPs surgeries as a way of monitoring the health of this vulnerable group of people.

NHS England decided to pay GPs as part of an incentive scheme for carrying out the health checks.

People with learning or intellectual disabilities, such as Down's syndrome, are known to have significantly poorer health than other people.

This is because they find it more difficult to talk about symptoms and are less likely to make appointments to talk about their health problems.


Lead researcher Andre Strydom, reader in intellectual disabilities at University College London, said there was good evidence that health checks for people with learning disabilities could help identify previously unrecognised health problems.

His study, comparing the results of health checks performed by GP surgeries who signed up to the scheme and those surgeries who did not, found that health concerns were picked up twice as often when surgeries got involved.

"We found that surgeries who did health checks did much better - they offered blood tests, reviewed the patients' medication, and drew up health action plans for the next year."

But even with six out of 10 surgeries signed up to the scheme in England, 40% of patients with learning disabilities did not receive a health check.

Dr Strydom said this may be owing to the fact that a large number of people with these disabilities were not on the list to receive a health check.

Either they were not known to local social services or their GP, or they were known but had been given the wrong patient code which meant they missed out when the list was collated, he said.

Stuart Mills, information officer at the Down's Syndrome Association, said there could be many reasons why this group of people were not being offered the health checks.

"It's a relatively complicated picture. It's down to a lack of awareness, not being on the disability register, and the fact there are more barriers for people with Down's syndrome."

He said the Association wanted to increase awareness that people with Down's syndrome were entitled to a health check.

The charity has also produced information booklets for GPs about potential health problems, which can include hearing and sight problems, thyroid conditions and muscular-skeletal problems. Depression is also a common health issue.

Although there was evidence some people were being given good health checks, others reported that their health checks were poor and lasted only 15 minutes, however.

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