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People with learning disabilities are dying needlessly without GPs' help

Article By: Angeline Albert

Some 1,200 people with a learning disability are dying of avoidable deaths every year according to the charity Mencap, with most people with the disability (77 per cent) not getting the help they need from GPs.

NHS animation for the #DontMissOut campaign raises awareness of need for people with a learning disability to be on GP’s learning disability register. Credit: NHS

Only 23 per cent of people with the condition are registered with their GP as having a learning disability, resulting in over three quarters not getting the ‘vital’ help they need from their doctor.

There are 1.4 million people with a learning disability in the UK.

Research by the learning disability charity highlights that more than a third (37 per cent) of deaths of people with learning disabilities are due to them not getting the right health care.

A learning disability is defined by Mencap as reduced intellectual ability which can cause problems with everyday tasks – for example shopping or travel to new places. A learning disability is not a mental illness nor a learning difficulty. A spokesman for Mencap said: “Very often the term ‘learning difficulty’ is wrongly used interchangeably with ‘learning disability’."

People with a learning disability can take longer to learn new things, understand difficult information and interact with other people.

Rachel Ashcroft, Mencap’s strategic development manager for health said: “Visiting the GP can be incredibly difficult if you have a learning disability. Making appointments, understanding what the doctor is saying and explaining how you feel can be really hard.

“There are 1,200 avoidable deaths of people with a learning disability every year due to the health inequalities that people with a learning disability face. Access to better support, more time and annual health checks could play a crucial role in improving patient-doctor relationships and ensuring that people with a learning disability receive the healthcare and treatment they need.”

How GPs can help

If people with a learning disability inform their GPs about their condition, they are entitled to extra help.

This can include:

• Extra time for appointments

• Easy Read information that is accessible

• Annual health checks that help to maintain health, detect conditions and illnesses and help GPs to understand how to provide better care to patients with a learning disability.

However, GP are sometimes left in the dark about a person’s condition with less than half (44 per cent) of people with a learning disability actually getting an annual health check from their doctor.

#DontMissOut campaign

Mencap, in partnership with NHS England, has launched an animation and online guides called ‘Don’t Miss Out’ to raise awareness of the importance for people with a learning disability being on their GP’s learning disability register.

‘My GP phones me to remind me about my health check’

#DontMissOut campaign video highlights importance of annual health checks  Credit: NHS

Youssef Abidat has a learning disability. Mr Abidat said: “My GP phones me to remind me about my health check, because sometimes I forget. I’m happy with my health centre. I didn’t realise I was low on vitamin B12 until I had my annual health check, so now I take vitamins to correct that. "If I didn’t have the check I may have been ill and not realised it.”

Dr Matt Hoghton, GP at Clevedon Medical Group and North Somerset CCG learning disability clinical lead, said: “Doing the annual health checks allows me to build a long-term, trusting relationship with patients who have a learning disability.

"This means I can do the necessary examinations, such as blood tests. At the same time, I learn more about the person and can make reasonable adjustments to their care.”

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