Learning disabilities: Annual Health Checks

Adults with learning disabilities need more health support to prevent their medical conditions going undetected.

People with learning disabilities often have poorer physical and mental health than other people. This doesn’t need to be the case.

The Annual Health Check scheme is for adults and young people aged 14 or above with learning disabilities who need more health support and who may otherwise have health conditions that go undetected.

Who will get an Annual Health Check?

People aged 14 and over who have been assessed as having moderate, severe or profound learning disabilities, or people with a mild learning disability who have other complex health needs, are entitled to a free annual health check.

Read about how to get care and support needs assessed.

What are the benefits of an Annual Health Check?

People with learning disabilities often have difficulty in recognising illness, communicating their needs and using health services. Research shows that regular health checks for people with learning disabilities often uncover treatable health conditions. Most of these are simple to treat and make the person feel better, while sometimes serious illnesses such as cancer are found at an early stage when they can be treated.

The Annual Health Check is also a chance for the person to get used to going to their GP practice, which reduces their fear of going at other times.

How do you get an Annual Health Check?

Adults and young people aged 14 or above with learning disabilities who are known to their local authority social services, and who are registered with a GP who knows their medical history, should be invited by their GP practice to come for an Annual Health Check.

What happens at an Annual Health Check?

The Annual Health Check lets the person with learning disabilities go to their GP practice and have aspects of their health checked. It also allows them to talk about anything that is worrying them.

During the health check, the GP or practice nurse will carry out the following for the patient:

  • a general physical examination, including checking their weight, heart rate, blood pressure and taking blood and urine samples
  • assessing the patient’s behaviour, including asking questions about their lifestyle, and mental health
  • a check for epilepsy
  • a check on any prescribed medicines the patient is currently taking
  • a check on whether any chronic illnesses, such as asthma or diabetes, are being well managed
  • a review of any arrangements with other health professionals, such as physiotherapists or speech therapists

If the person's learning disability has a specific cause, the GP or practice nurse will often do extra tests for particular health risks. For people with Down's syndrome, for example, they may do a test to see whether their thyroid is working properly. 

The Annual Health Check may also be a good opportunity to review any transitional arrangements that takes place when the patient turns 18.

The GP or practice nurse will also provide the patient with any relevant health information, such as advice on healthy eating, exercise, contraception or stop smoking support.

How will the Annual Health Check be tailored to the patient’s needs?

People with learning disabilities have lots of different needs. Sometimes these are written down in a health profile or health action plan that the GP or nurse can refer to. Putting “reasonable adjustments” in place can help people to have a successful health check. Reasonable adjustments mean changing services so they are easier to use.

These adjustments can include:

  • using pictures, large print, and straightforward language to help explain what is happening
  • booking longer appointments
  • scheduling an appointment that starts at the beginning or end of the day, so people don’t have to wait

Is it compulsory to have an Annual Health Check?

No. All parts of the health check are voluntary. Anyone who is having the health check, or their carer, can ask the GP or practice nurse for more information about the process. The patient can then give their consent before any tests or procedures are carried out.

Is it the same as the NHS Health Check scheme?

No. The NHS Health Check programme is for all adults aged 40-74. It assesses their risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, diabetes and dementia every five years. For more information, visit the NHS Health Check mini-site.

How many people have Annual Health Checks?

In 2013-14, 44.2% of eligible adults with a learning disability had a GP health check. This means that more than half of people who could have one are missing out.

The learning disabilities programme Improving Health and Lives, part of Public Health England, has more information on the Annual Health Check programme and its take-up.

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