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10 June 2021

Improving uptake of annual health checks for people with learning disabilities

Tackling health inequalities experienced by adults with learning disabilities has proved hugely successful and led to the service being offered more widely in Kent.

The original project, led by Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust, aimed to increase the number of annual health checks carried out with people with a learning disability over 12 weeks.  The project team worked with six GPs across Kent.

Annual health checks are vital for adults with learning disabilities as statistics show they have significantly poorer health than non-disabled peers. Evidence suggests annual health checks are an effective way to identify previously unrecognised health needs, including those associated with life-threatening illnesses.

The KCHFT project team included Specialist Community Matron Lisa Harrington, Senior Community Learning Disability Nurse Chris Hunter and Senior Community Learning Disability Nurse Rebecca Hankin.

The work was cut slightly short by the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been adapted and built upon since. The trust is looking at how it can further help GPs, primary care networks and clinical commissioning groups, to encourage a higher percentage of patients to have their annual health check.

Nationally, the annual health check target for adults with learning disabilities is 75 per cent. Statistics from 1 April 2018 to 31 March 2019, show that only 42.9 per cent of adults with learning disabilities had completed their annual health check.

Lisa said: “We wanted to improve the uptake and quality of these annual health checks. Working with GPs, patients and their carers, we were able to take a proactive approach to improving the health and wellbeing of adults with learning disabilities.

“Having access to annual health checks is essential for these individuals, helping them to live well, as well as contributing to a reduction in hospital admissions and premature deaths.”

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, three of the GP surgeries had to cancel their adult health check clinics as they were not able to provide face-to-face appointments. However, the project team still managed to achieve an increase in checks for all six GPs collectively, from 22.3 per cent to 48.3 per cent, with two GPs providing health checks to all of their patients with learning disabilities. The three surgeries that continued to provide the annual health check clinics during the pandemic, completed checks with 93 to 100 per cent of their learning disability patients.

Lisa said: “The findings evidence the value of learning disability nurses being involved in this process. By introducing annual health check clinics at GP surgeries throughout Kent, reaching the national target is much more achievable. GPs taking part also fed back on the increased quality of the checks.”

Due to the success of this pilot project, the trust is now working with five GPs in a second project to trial the service, using the same model, with a KCHFT learning disability nurse supporting annual health check clinics.

From January to March 2021, the trust has offered 176 annual health checks to adults with learning disabilities; 49 per cent of these resulted in patients, their families and carers receiving advice to support their care needs and 32 per cent of health checks generated a referral to the trust’s learning disability team, including people who had not previously been known to the service.

Anyone with a learning disability aged 14 and above can access an annual health check via their GP.

Quality improvement (QI) methodology and tools were used on the project, including a driver diagram, run charts and project on a page. Data was collected from the beginning and monitored and measured throughout, to evidence improvement. QI is a system used by healthcare trusts and others worldwide to make improvements, using tried and tested methods and tools.

Find out more on the trust’s QI website

(Please note, image used was taken pre-pandemic).