Improvements in Annual Health Checks

At a recent Better Health Group Meeting, Annual Health Checks were discussed and the outcome of the discussion was to share people’s experiences in a blog. In this blog we will hear from people supported and top tips from the Families team.

Annual Health Checks for people with learning disabilities and/or autism are beneficial in ensuring that they receive appropriate healthcare. Many people with learning disabilities who also have other diagnosed health conditions may have difficulty accessing Primary Care Services. As a result, people are at increased risk of developing additional health issues that could have been prevented or treated earlier with regular check-ups.

The LeDeR Report (Learning from Life and Death reviews of people with a learning disability and autistic people) shows devastating health inequalities where those with a learning disability die on average 20 years earlier than the general population. It is estimated that 1,200 people die avoidably every year when timely access to good quality healthcare could have saved them*.

In addition, annual health checks provide an opportunity for healthcare providers to identify and address any physical or mental health issues that people with learning disabilities and autism may be experiencing and includes checking for over-medication.

The number of people who we support who receive an Annual Health Check remains high at 82.5% (2021 survey) compared to that reported in NHS figures of 57.8% (NHS Digital 2019-20). Of the total number people we support receiving an Annual Health Check, only 5% recorded this as ‘not good’, which implies overall a positive engagement with health services. We spoke to some of those people we support to get first-hand feedback on their recent experience with their Annual Health Checks.

Jordan Advocacy LDA Leaders' List 2018
Jordan Smith, Dimensions Council member

Dimensions Council member, Jordan, had a far from satisfactory experience at his last Annual Health Check, so was delighted to share the improvements that had been made. He says:

“I saw the nurse and was in there for an hour and 25 minutes and we literally talked about everything from my psoriasis to my mental health. We talked a lot about my diet and my medication and any side effects. We also chatted about the support I receive at home, my living arrangements, and the importance of getting out and about. It was a great experience and I felt like I’d had a proper MOT like you have on a car.”

We asked Jordan what he would say to anyone who hasn’t had their annual health check and might be feeling slightly anxious:

“Make sure that all reasonable adjustments that you need are in place before you go. Have the questions you might want to ask written down or agreed with your support worker, so that they can remind you if you forget. Tell them if you feel scared or worried about going and what would help you feel more comfortable and don’t be afraid to ask if you don’t understand something. If any medical jargon was used that I hadn’t heard of I’d ask them to explain using different words.”

This annual health check was a total transformation for Jordan when compared to his last one and he says he was really ‘impressed’. Previously, they only took his blood pressure and measured his height and weight. Jordan has been instrumental in helping his surgery make changes and they are really listening. In fact, Jordan told them it would help to have his appointment reminder by letter in Arial font and point size 16 in blue, and was very pleased when it arrived in exactly that format. He says:

Council member Aaran said:

Aaran said he had all the necessary checks, and that the appointment was about an hour long. He was given helpful advice on how to improve his diet as well as leaflets to take away, but he says these would be better if they were in an easyread format. Aaran has been working hard on going to the gym and keeping his weight down and he says that these checks ensure that he is on track and doing everything he should be and what he could do differently.

The picture though does differ across regions. Discovery Council Member Alison says her surgery is big and noisy and her appointment wasn’t as lengthy or in-depth as either Jordan or Aaran experienced.

Checks were undertaken, but Alison needed more time to process the information and it all felt rushed. The appointment letter wasn’t in an easyread format and it’s clear a consistent approach across all surgeries and healthcare settings would be beneficial.

For our Families team the annual health check is a great opportunity to:

  • get to know the GPs and nurses at the surgery
  • have the GPs and nurses get to know support workers and the person supported
  • it’s important that they learn the difference between how someone seems when they are well and when they are ill
  • be reminded to stay on top of, and implement all health-related stuff
  • bring up things you weren’t sure were worth making an appointment for
  • get support to make good plans for this year
  • and update the hospital passport (if needed).

It is important to involve family members as much as possible since they have a unique understanding of family and medical history. If you have any questions about how we work with families, please contact our Families team.

Please encourage those you support to attend their Annual Health Check and discuss it with them beforehand so you can talk about any worries they may have.

* Glover, G. and Emerson, E. (2013), “Estimating how many deaths of people with learning disabilities in England could be prevented by better medical care”, Tizard Learning Disability Review, Vol. 18 No. 3, pp. 146-149.