A new best practice guide for GPs on ensuring people with learning disabilities access appropriate eye health care is to be launched during Learning Disability Week next week.

The guide highlights the need for everyone with learning disabilities to have their sight tested every 2 years and includes a checklist that aims to make it easy for GPs to recognise key symptoms of possible eye problems. The guidance was commissioned by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) and created by the Royal College of Ophthalmologists and eye care charity SeeAbility. It is estimated that people with learning disabilities are 10 times more likely to be blind or partially sighted than the rest of the population, according to research by SeeAbility. In addition, people with severe or profound learning disabilities are the most likely to have serious sight problems but are often unable to verbalise this, causing a significant impact on their quality of life.

In some cases they can be wrongly treated for behavioural difficulties or unrelated medical issues when it is simply a case of undiagnosed sight problems. Kathy Evans, chief executive of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, urged GPs to be proactive in identifying people with learning disabilities, “so that measures can be put in place to make the most of every visit to eye clinics. This would also help in the planning of future care.”

Dr Matt Hoghton, RCGP clinical champion for learning disabilities, said: “Problems with visual acuity or the visual system can turn the simplest activities of daily living into a challenge, and this is particularly the case for people with learning disabilities. GPs need to be aware of sensory problems affecting people with learning disabilities, screen their vision and hearing at their annual health check and then signpost them quickly to relevant local services. By taking this simple action, GPs can help to significantly reduce the impact of health inequalities on this vulnerable group in our communities.”

Paula Spinks-Chamberlain, SeeAbility’s director of specialist services, added: “We urge GPs to consider the eye health and vision needs of people with learning disabilities during annual health checks and refer people for eye tests every two years or more if necessary.”