Dan Parton cutDan Parton writes that the number of adults with learning disabilities receiving a health check has only increased by 5% in the past year is worrying – especially with the introduction of GP consortia:  

Putting a positive spin on the latest figures from Improving Health and Lives (IHaL), in 2011/12 it’s true that 53% of adults with a learning disability – who are known to primary care trusts (PCTs) and social services ‒ received an annual health check. That’s a 5% rise on the 2010/11 figures.

But that’s as positive as it gets, for me. I can’t help feeling that this isn’t a good performance, considering that GPs are supposed to have been offering these to everyone who is eligible for 4 years now. Progress on the numbers having a health check is also slowing – there was a rise of only 8% between 2009/10 and 2010/11, compared to 18% between 2008/9 and 2009/10.

As with previous figures, IHaL also revealed a pronounced postcode lottery, with the bottom 10% of PCTs providing checks for fewer than 25% of those eligible while the top 10% provided 69% or more. That’s a lot of GPs in PCTs that do not provide many health checks.

This is worrying. It was worrying last year as well when I last blogged on this subject and little has changed in the past year to assuage those concerns. With GP consortia coming soon, you have to wonder where annual health checks will fit and I worry that the postcode lottery will continue – or worsen. If the GP consortium has someone in it who is a champion for learning disabilities and understands the importance of things like annual health checks, then it is likely that people will be able to access one with ease. But, if such a champion is not there then they could easily slip down the list of priorities.

The importance of health checks for adults with learning disabilities can’t be overemphasised. Many people find that they have previously undiagnosed conditions, thanks to the health check. As a result, they get the treatment they need, which often improves their quality of life.

Last year, I concluded my blog by saying that learning disability specialists should be involved in every GP consortia, at least in a consultancy role, but preferably directly. As the record on health checks proves, there isn’t the knowledge among GPs about learning disabilities for them to be able to commission services effectively on their own.

I still think there is a need for such specialists. While the numbers of health checks is increasing, the fact that, after 4 years, they reach only just over half of the people they should, shows where learning disabilities lie in some GP’s priorities, and we  need to  guard against this lack of knowledge and concern in the forthcoming reforms, if we are to  prevent a decline in services.