Hundreds of people with learning disabilities could be missing out on essential health checks

PUBLISHED: 14:40 20 February 2018 | UPDATED: 16:01 20 February 2018

Picture: Denise Bradley

Picture: Denise Bradley

Nearly 700 adults and young people with learning disabilities could be missing out on essential annual health checks because they have not registered their disability with their GP.

Chief executive of Norfolk charity Nansa, Ros Czarnowska. Photo: NansaChief executive of Norfolk charity Nansa, Ros Czarnowska. Photo: Nansa

In 2011, a national estimate found there were 21,786 adults living with learning disabilities (LD) in Norfolk and Waveney, 3315 of whom were counted as having severe or moderate disabilities.

But just 2,627 people were recorded by GP practices, prompting concerns the 688 not registered were not being offered health checks which could extend their lives.

Adults and young people with severe or moderate learning disabilities are eligible for an annual health check, and if they are registered with their GP will receive a reminder letter.

And GPs are encouraged to identify these patients so they can be offered the check as people with learning disabilities suffer worse health and have a lower life expectancy than the general population.

Papers released ahead of Norfolk County Council’s Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee (HOSC) on Thursday - where the issue will be discussed - said women with LD were expected to live 18 years less, while men with LD were expected to live 14 years less.

And there were a number of health conditions people with LD were more likely to experience, including being under or overweight, dementia, epilepsy, and respiratory disease.

June Walton is a member of user-led charity Opening Doors, based in Norwich which is run by people with learning difficulties.

Ms Walton had her health check, which she said was “great” - but she was concerned about others not taking them up. She said: “What if there’s a problem and it don’t get spotted?”

Another member, Peter Moule, said: “I think everyone should have a health check. It is a good thing and it’s a shame not everyone gets it. It might save their life.”

Carl Bygraves, who had his first health check this year, added: “You hear a lot on the news about people with learning disabilities being ill with things so you need to keep an eye on your weight and all that. I was a bit nervous at the beginning but I was glad I did it in the end. All people with learning disabilities should get a health check.“

For members at Opening Doors, increasing the uptake of health checks was key, and a step towards this was making information accessible.

For people with learning disabilities this is often through easy read - a way of writing and using images which can make information easier to understand.

Paul McCluskey said: “I normally get a letter from my GP every year in October but the letter is not in easy read. It reminds you to make an appointment for yourself. I can do this with no problem but it might be a problem for someone who is not so confident on the phone or can’t read the letter.”

Highlighting the need for easy read Mr Bygraves, who had his check after his GP contacted him, added: “My mum helped me with the letter they sent. It was a bit easy read but I still needed help.’”

‘No excuse’ for life expectancy difference

Chief executive of Norfolk charity Nansa, Ros Czarnowska, said the figures did not surprise her.

But she added some families may not place themselves on the GP register, as they did not want to be labelled as having a learning disability.

She said: “It means if they’re not on the register then they’re not on the radar. I think the checks are really important and I don’t think there’s enough awareness around it.”

But she said there was “no excuse” for the difference in life expectancy for those with learning disabilities and those without.

She said: “There are some physical reasons but the size of that gap is shocking.”

She welcomed councillors concern, and added: “I would like to see the council and the CCGs putting some money in and recognising this needs to be done properly, but I also understand the cost pressures everyone is working under.”

• Norfolk HOSC meets at County Hall on Thursday, February 22, from 10am.

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