A trial which tested a new model of annual health checks found that the presence of a learning disability nurse significantly improved uptake among people with learning disability.

The project saw learning disability nurses from Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust (KCHFT) work in partnership with six local surgeries to organise and deliver annual health checks at general practices.

Although the trial (which was due to last for 12 weeks) had to be cut short because of the Covid-19 pandemic, it still delivered promising results and a second trial has now been launched.

Despite half of the surgeries having to cancel their face-to-face appointments, the project team still managed to increase checks in all six practises from 22% to 48%.

In the clinics which remained open, checks were completed with 93-100% of patients with a learning disability. In 2018-2019, the figure achieved was just 43%.

Allowing extra time and simplifying language

The new model extended appointment times, allowing 40 minutes with a learning disability nurse and a further 20 minutes with a GP. The learning disability nurse would then support the individual to explain the issues raised in their session to the GP.

Patients were sent easy-read information before their appointment and were also phoned by a nurse to talk through any concerns they may have. Becky Hankin, senior community learning disability nurse from KCHFT, told Nursing Times that this helped to reduce the number of no-shows.

Becky explained that assessment questions for the appointments were adapted and phrased in a simpler manner to help better uncover any underlying health issues. “This brought up quite a few questions about the menstrual cycle and menstrual cramps; we were then able to get the person the medicine or help they needed.

“We also made quite a few mental health referrals, for anxiety and bereavement, with our pilot happening during lockdown,” she said.

The new model offers patients a “much better service”

One GP involved in the pilot said that the new model of structured consultations and recorded outcomes offers patients a “much better service”.

Due to the success of the pilot, the trust is now working with five GPs in a second project to trial the service. From January to March 2021, the trust supported 176 annual health checks and nearly half (49%) of these resulted in patients, their families and carers receiving advice to support their care needs. Furthermore, roughly a third (32%) generated referral to the trust’s learning disability team, including people who had not previously been known to the service.

Lisa Harrington, specialist community matron in learning disabilities from KCHFT, told Nursing Times that the project helped to increase awareness and understanding about the benefits of annual health checks. She said: “This project highlighted that the specialist expertise, knowledge and skills of the learning disability nurses working with the GPs, can help improve the assessment process of the annual health checks and overall positive health outcomes for people with a learning disability.”