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Learning Disability Week highlights the importance of annual NHS health checks

18th June 2018 | By Liz Mattock | Posted in

During Learning Disability Week (18-24 June 2018) GPs in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are encouraging people with a learning disability to make sure they have an annual health check.

Compared with other people, those with a learning disability often find it more difficult to recognise illness, communicate their needs and use health services. The annual physical health check is therefore offered by GPs to anyone aged 14 and over with a learning disability, to check their physical health, including looking for health conditions that may otherwise go undetected.

Dr David Shepherd, GP and clinical lead for learning disabilities at Leicester City Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “If you have a learning disability, do take up the offer of a health check. It’s a free NHS service designed to pick up and sort out any health problems at an early stage. Often these will be simple to treat so that you’ll feel better.

It’s also a perfect time to ask about anything that’s worrying you and to get used to going to your GP practice. We understand that you might feel nervous about seeing a GP or nurse, especially if you’re not used to going, but there’s really no need to worry, and a health check is something you could find really helpful. Don’t miss out!”

One Leicester City patient, Rashpal,was really pleased that he’d been for his health check: “If someone asked me about going for a health check, I’d tell them to go and find out what their health’s like and if there’s anything wrong, because I did. I went and found out what’s wrong with me. Don’t be nervous, it’s just a normal health check and it’s really helped me.

“The nurse told me I have Type 2 Diabetes and asthma and arthritis. It was a shock at first, but it’s a good thing to know, so I can do more exercise and change my diet and look after myself better. The nurse gave me a food chart about what’s good and not good to eat and she explained it to me really well. She also gave me an inhaler with a spacer to help with my asthma, she showed me how to use it, it’s quite easy.

It was hard to make changes to my diet at first, but then I got used to it. I do more exercise now, lots of walking and I like jogging on the spot. Since I made the changes I feel different – lighter and more healthy.”

At the health check, each patient is given a general physical examination, including checking their weight, heart rate and blood pressure, and they may be given a blood or urine test. Any medication they take will be reviewed and there will be a check on any existing health condition, like diabetes or asthma, and how well it’s being managed. The GP or practice nurse will also give any relevant health information, like advice on healthy eating, exercise, contraception or stop smoking support.

Another local patient, Ranjit, was worried about his balance and getting around, as he’d had a few falls recently; following his health check he was referred to a physiotherapist. “It is really important you go for your health check, your health’s very important, as the saying goes: ‘You can have all the money in the world but if you haven’t got your health you’ve got nothing’. You only have one life, so go for it!  Just answer the questions they ask you.  I had a good experience and I’ll try and follow their advice to keep me healthy.”

To help explain what to expect from the health checks, an easy-read booklet has been produced, with the help of people with learning disabilities. GP practices in Leicester city have been asked to send a leaflet to every patient along with their invitation letter. The leaflet uses symbols and pictures to make it easier to understand and can be downloaded at: https://bit.ly/2ya6mqK. It is also available in Gujarati, Punjabi and Urdu.

NHS England wants to see more people with a learning disability having annual health checks, they have set a target for 2018-19 of at least 66% of people having had theirs carried out. The latest figures show Leicester City has a take-up 70%, East Leicestershire and Rutland has a rate of 69% and in West Leicestershire the figure is 62%.  These figures all exceed the national average of 48.8%.

Dr Shepherd said: “If you’ve never had a health check, or if it’s been a couple of years since your last one, you can speak to your GP practice and ask them when you should have it. Also, if you care for someone with a learning disability, you can contact the practice on their behalf to make an appointment for them. We want to make sure no-one misses out on their health check, as it could make a real difference.”

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