Experiences of Annual Health Checks: Voices from the Learning Disability Community

Annual Health Checks for people with learning disabilities were being missed, or not done properly by local GP’s. This is how we helped.
Two men smiling at each other

What are Annual Health Checks?

Annual Health Checks are for people aged 14 years or over with a learning disability. They are provided by GP practices with the purpose of reducing premature mortality and improving the health outcomes of people with learning disabilities.

Background to the research

Feedback from the learning disability community in Hertfordshire raised concerns about the uptake and quality of Annual Health Checks locally. Some told us they had never had an annual health check and for those that had, most said that the visit only lasted between 5-10 minutes. This is despite NHS guidance that says Annual Health Checks should last between 30 minutes and 1 hour.

We were also told that it was not always made clear that carers or support workers could attend the appointment, which would have helped many of those feeling anxious or overwhelmed.

What We Did

We worked with our Learning Disability Service Watch Group to co-produce a questionnaire to hear from the learning disability community about their experiences of Annual Health Checks. We also went to Learning Disability Forums across the county to speak to people with learning disabilities about Annual Health Checks. In total we heard from 491 people which is a brilliant result!

Healthwatch Hertfordshire would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who participated in our work and shared their experiences with us. By talking to us, you have helped to make Annual Health Checks better for you and other people with learning disabilities.

What We Found

  • Of the respondents who completed the questionnaire, 69% had an Annual Health Check since May 2017 and 31% have never had an Annual Health Check.
  • For those who had an Annual Health Check, positive experiences reflected the friendliness and patience of clinicians.
  • Concerns were raised regarding the quality of Annual Health Checks, with some service users only receiving a short appointment and a basic examination of their physical and mental health.
  • Few GP practices provided information in an easy read format and/or communicated with service users in a way that was accessible for them.
  • Some GP practices did not allow service users to bring support with them, and in some cases, staff in supported living accommodation refused to accompany service users.
  • Of the respondents who have never had an Annual Health Check, 80% said this was because they were not aware Annual Health Checks existed and/or because they had not been offered an appointment.
  • 20% of service users questioned the importance of having an Annual Health Check, and/or noted barriers such as time and confidence.
  • Those aged 14-17 years old were less likely to have an Annual Health Check. For those who had, they were given greater choice in terms of their appointment time and clinician.

What Happened Next? 

Based on the findings, we made 15 recommendations to providers and commissioners to help improve awareness, information, quality, support and choice. 

The responses from Hertfordshire County Council and both Clinical Commissioning Groups can found in the report below. 

On behalf of Hertfordshire and West Essex Integrated Care System, I welcome Healthwatch Hertfordshire’s report ‘Experiences of Annual Health Checks.’ The findings will certainly shape the work that is already underway to improve the uptake of Annual Health Checks as well as the steps to improve the quality of them.
— The Right Hon Paul Burstow, Independent Chair for Hertfordshire and West Essex Integrated Care System.

Read the full report, and the responses to our recommendations here

Experiences of Annual Health Checks: Voices from the Learning Disability Community
Easy Read Version of the Report

If you require this report in another format, please get in touch.

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