stethoscope GPs are being urged to start planning now for the introduction of annual health checks for young people aged 14-17 with learning disabilities in April.

The call from the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) came ahead of the move next month, which has been made as a result of recommendations following last year's Confidential Inquiry into premature deaths of people with learning disabilities (CIPOLD).

Adults aged 18 and over are already entitled to an annual health check. At a health check, a person receives a general physical examination, checks on any prescribed medications they are taking and the management of any chronic illnesses and a review of any arrangements with other health professionals, such as physiotherapists or speech therapists.

The CIPOLD report found that three times as many people with learning disabilities die before the age of 50 compared to the general population. In addition, men with learning disabilities die on average 13 years younger than the general population, while women die 20 years younger.

Dr Matthew Hoghton, medical director of RCGP's Clinical Innovation & Research Centre and lead investigator in CIPOLD, said: “Many GPs will be unaware of some important changes coming in April, but they will need to start planning now if they are to be ready. It is vital that GPs work closely alongside clinical commissioning groups, local authorities and their SEN departments, local paediatricians and those responsible for neurodisability in order to identify and populate registers with details of young people who have learning disabilities.

“Young people of 14-17 years with learning disabilities are recognised as being particularly vulnerable to issues around their health and these changes aim to help the transition from children's to adult services. Particularly if parents aren't strong advocates for them, this is a time when healthcare needs can fall between the cracks. A truly joined up effort will be needed to ensure that we are successful in helping these young people."

There are a number of other changes GPs to be aware of in relation to people with learning disabilities. For example, it was announced in December that the Quality and Outcomes Framework Learning Disability Register is to be extended from the current guidance of 18 years and older to include everyone with a learning disability from birth. The aim is to ensure the clear identification of people with learning disabilities on the NHS central registration system and in all healthcare record systems. The extension of the register will require clinical commissioning groups, paediatricians and local authorities to identify children and young people to GPs.

In addition, with the new Children and Families Act, every child with a learning disability will be entitled to an Education, Health and Care joint plan from September. 

Finally, NHS England, which is currently reviewing future mortality surveillance in this vulnerable group, is expected to announce its plans at the Confidential Inquiry Conference on March 29.