Follow NHS England in introducing learning disability health checks, says Scottish disability organisation


Inclusion Scotland has called on the Scottish government to introduce specific health checks by GPs for people with learning disabilities, a policy which has proven to be effective in NHS England.

A study in Lancet Psychiatry found that surgeries in England were twice as likely to identify health problems with the new learning disability health checks, introduced in 2008.

Bill Scott, Policy Director of Inclusion Scotland, which is a consortium of disability organisations, told CommonSpace they were “very supportive” of the idea of introducing the policy in Scotland.

Scott said that life expectancy for people with learning disability is 20 years less than the average for the population as a whole, and that “this is largely due to health problems not being identified early on”.

Life expectancy for people with learning disability is 20 years less than the average.

“Specifically planned checks for people with learning disability is incredibly important because often people with learning difficulties struggle to communicate what is wrong with them, and GPs who are under time pressure will just go through the same process as they would normally,” Scott said. “Not everyone takes their advocacy worker with them to appointments, and therefore serious health problems are easily missed,” Scott added.

Scott said that health problems like heart disease and cancer can often be identified much later among people with learning disabilities, adding that “early diagnosis is important for everyone’s health.”

A Scottish government spokesperson responded to the call by Inclusion Scotland, telling CommonSpace: “All NHS boards are expected to work closely with local GP practices to routinely identify people with learning disabilities, and to find ways of addressing the unique health problems which this vulnerable population might experience.

“To support this work the Scottish government has established a Learning Disability Observatory, which will focus on using data to improve health services for people in this group. We also have a ten year strategy called The Keys to Life, which identifies a number of recommendations designed to improve health outcomes for those with learning disabilities.”

The Scottish government’s The Keys to Life paper had found that identifying and effectively treating health problems amongst people with learning disabilities was a problem, stating: “What is clear is that some conditions go unrecognised or are recognised at a later stage than would be the case for the general population.

“Where there is a recognised condition, it may not be monitored as well unless individuals themselves, their carers and professionals pro-actively do this. Added to which, assumptions are sometimes made that a condition is part of the learning disability and it is not addressed because of this.”

However, The Keys to Life did not make any specific recommendations on learning disability health checks.

Picture courtesy of Patrick Giblin