People with learning disabilities have a greater risk of developing health problems – both physical and mental – in comparison to the rest of the general population.
Evidence suggests they are 2.5 times more likely to have health problems than the average person.
They also have the additional challenge of describing their symptoms. This makes it more difficult for doctors like me, and other health workers, to identify their health needs.
The NHS encourages a free annual health check for adults and young people aged 14 and above who have learning disabilities. It’s to be more proactive and pick up potential problems earlier which may otherwise have gone undetected. It includes a series of structured questions, a general physical examination, sometimes blood tests and a review of their current medications. It is also provides additional support for uptake of routine cancer screening tests.
It’s also an opportunity for the person to get used to going to their general practice, reducing their fear at other times.
In Doncaster, we have more than 1400 people who are registered with learning disabilities. We want to do more to improve their mental and physical health and make services easier for them to access and recently held an event with other organisations to explore new ideas for doing this.
To help us, we are currently working with Choice for All Doncaster (ChAD), a committee of adults with learning disabilities who speak up for themselves and their peers about issues which affect their lives. ChAD has representatives at the town’s Learning Disability Partnership Board meetings where local public services are planned and organised to meet their needs.
ChAD members have helped us develop a new poster campaign which aims to increase awareness of the symptoms of bowel cancer amongst people with learning disabilities. It features ChAD’s Raymond Humphryes acting out four potential warning signs of the disease with Dr Khaimraj Singh, who is his GP and a CCG Governing Board member.
Raymond, 42, who lives in Rossington and works on a farm in Barnsley, has been a ChAD member for over six years. He agreed to be our model after he and fellow members agreed the best way of illustrating the warning signs pictorially.
Copies of the poster will appear soon in GP surgeries and other public venues around Doncaster.
ChAD members have also visited GP practices in Doncaster to help staff understand and address the problems they have when accessing services, such as making an appointment or using the check-in machine. They are also helping with the potential re-design of premises, amending practice literature and attending in-house training sessions.
I’m pleased that in Doncaster we also have a network of health ‘ambassadors’ who represent hard to reach groups, including a representative for those who have learning disabilities. People who have learning disabilities are amongst the most vulnerable in our society, which is why it’s important that their voices are heard by organisations like ours.