Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Less people with learning disabilities receiving health checks compared to last year

Less people with a learning disability received a health check in 2021/22 compared to 2020/21, according to new statistics from NHS England.

In total, 71.8% of people with a learning disability received a health check in 2021/22, down from 75.2% in 2021/22.

Health checks have been shown to reduce the risk of death

While the number of people with a learning disability receiving annual health checks has generally improved in recent years, it is concerning that the number dropped in 2021/22, with around three in 10 people failing to come forward.

People with learning disabilities are more likely to have multiple health problems, and health checks were introduced to detect health issues early on when they are more treatable.

Research has shown that annual health checks can improve health and wellbeing and reduce the risk of death.

Professor Eric Emerson, co-director of the National Specialist Learning Disabilities Public Health Observatory, said health checks are a “fundamental” way to reduce health inequalities, and are a “critically important” reasonable adjustment that all practices should be implementing.

Breast cancer screening rates decreased but colorectal cancer screening rates increased

The data also reveals that the percentage of female patients aged 50 to 69 who had a breast cancer screening test decreased by 2.2 percentage points between 2017-18 and 2021-22.

However, colorectal cancer screening rates improved, with around half (50.3%) of patients with a learning disability aged 60 to 74 having a colorectal cancer screening test in 2021/22, up from 43.3% the previous year.

The number of people with a learning disability who were prescribed antipsychotics, benzodiazepines and epilepsy drugs also decreased between 2017/18 to 2021/22 (Figure 1).

Figure 1

2017/18 2021/22
Antipsychotics 15.5% 14.5%
Benzodiazepines 7.6% 7.1%
Epilepsy drugs 5.5% 4.9%

Number of people with an autism diagnosis has risen

The research by NHS England also looked into the prevalence of learning disability and autism. It included 55.7% of patients registered in England in 2021-22, 0.5% of whom were recorded as having a learning disability.

The percentage of patients who had a learning disability and have been diagnosed with autism has increased each year, rising from 21.4% in 2017/18 to 30.7% in 2021/22.

The percentage of patients without a learning disability who have a diagnosis of autism also increased by 0.3 percentage points to 0.9% over the same period.

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