More research is needed on the provision of unscheduled healthcare for children with a learning disability as a means of monitoring quality of healthcare and addressing observed inequities. 

This was the conclusion of a scoping review published in Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities that mapped the evidence base in this area to identify areas for future study.

A total of 3,158 titles and abstracts were screened, 137 full-text articles were reviewed, and 25 papers met the inclusion criteria. Descriptive themes focused on inequities, needs and experiences of families, poor GP training, and limitations of existing evidence.

The authors said that reducing health inequities evident across health systems requires adequate data about the healthcare utilisation of people with learning disabilities and critically, capturing their experiences of healthcare.

Examining the training needs of GPs

It also found that another important area of further study is the role that primary care plays in the lives of families of children with a learning disability, which has received little focus in the literature.

Parents view the GP as a gatekeeper to not only secondary healthcare services but to further supports in their communities, however, GPs do not feel they have adequate capacity or training to provide such support.

Given the findings of this review regarding the parents' perceptions of the supportive role of GPs, research that examines the training needs of GPs and how they can be facilitated to support this population and their families would be beneficial.

The authors said that quality healthcare for people with intellectual disability relies on appropriate adjustments and research initiatives and funding bodies need to focus research exclusively on this population to highlight, for example, adjustments that need to be made in primary care settings and how they can be implemented, in order for meaningful improvement in the quality and equity of healthcare for children. 

They added: "Improved public health outcomes rely on strong systems of first-contact unscheduled healthcare, which is delivered in a timely and appropriate manner.

"Such health services are critical for families and children with intellectual disability and there is a need to build on the research that has identified and described disparities, by examining modifiable factors that result in health disparities and recognising the multifaceted needs of these children and their families."