People with a learning disability often have poorer physical and mental health than other people and die younger than the general population . This does not need to be the case.

Annual health checks are for adults and young people aged 14 or over with a learning disability and help the person stay healthy.

An annual health check helps you stay well by talking about your health and finding any problems early, so you get the right care. This is especially important as often people with a learning disability may have communication issues making it more difficult to express any concerns. Annual Health Checks also assist with the transition to adult services, help embed awareness of health and how to stay healthy, particularly as people with learning disabilities are known to have poorer health than the general population and may die at a younger age.

You do not have to be ill to have a health check – in fact, most people have their annual health check when they’re feeling well as this is the best time to look at overall health and wellbeing, both physical and mental.

If you’re worried about seeing a doctor, or there’s anything they can do to make your visit better, let the doctor or nurse know. They’ll help make sure it goes well for you.

Watch this film about annual health checks for people with a learning disability

Who’s eligible?

  • Anyone aged 14 or over who’s on their GP’s learning disability register can have a free annual health check once a year.
  • You can ask to go on this register if you think you have a learning disability.
  • The learning disability register is different from the register of social care needs managed by local councils.
  • Check with your GP practice if you or the person you care for is on the register.

How will it help?

  • You’ll get to know your GP and practice staff better, which will help if you ever do get ill.
  • Get familiar with basic checks like blood pressure.
  • Most health problems are simple to treat once you know about them.
  • Your GP can help stop you getting a serious health condition by spotting early signs, or having tests. This is better than waiting until you’re ill.
  • You can ask your GP questions about your health, how you’re feeling, your care or any medicines you take.
  • Your GP can give you information you need in a way that will help you.

How do you get an appointment?

Adults and young people aged 14 or over with a learning disability who are on the GP practice learning disability register should be invited by their GP practice to come for an annual health check.

What if my GP doesn’t offer the annual health check?

Most GP surgeries offer annual health checks to people with a learning disability. However, GP surgeries don’t have to offer this service.

If your GP surgery hasn’t offered you an annual health check, you can ask them if they could provide one, make sure you are on the Learning Disability Register at the practice, this will mean an once a year invite for the check. If the practice doesn’t have you on their LD Register speak to your GP direct to get this set up. If there are any problems then speak to the Practice Manager at your GP practice.

What happens during the annual health check?

During the health check, the GP or practice nurse will:

  • do a physical check-up, including weight, heart rate, blood pressure taking a urine sample and you may require a follow up blood test
  • talk to you about staying well and if you need any help with this – this includes things like your diet and if it is healthy, healthy lifestyle, how much exercise you do and how you look after your mental health and have fun
  • ask about things that are more common if you have a learning disability, such as epilepsy, constipation or problems with swallowing
  • talk to you about your medicines
  • if you have a health problem such as asthma or diabetes, the GP or nurse will check how it’s going
  • check to see if you have any other health appointments, such as physiotherapy or speech therapy
  • ask if family and/or carers are getting the support they need
  • help make sure that things go well when children move to adult services at the age of 18

If your learning disability has a specific cause, the GP or practice nurse may carry out additional tests if there are any other health risks.

For people with Down’s syndrome, for example, they may do a test to see if your thyroid gland is working properly.

You’ll be asked for your consent (permission) to share information with other services that provide your care. This will help you get the right support if you go to a hospital, for example.

The GP or practice nurse can give you health information, such as advice on healthy eating, exercise, contraception or stopping smoking if that supports your health, this should be available in easy read.

Making reasonable adjustments for you

A reasonable adjustment is when somebody changes how they do things to make it better for you. People with a learning disability have a legal right for reasonable adjustments to be made so they can get the same benefits from healthcare services as everyone else. Ask your GP if you need any reasonable adjustments, such as:

  • using pictures, large print or simpler words to say what’s happening
  • booking longer appointments
  • putting an appointment at the beginning or end of the day, if you find it hard to be in a busy waiting room

The reasonable adjustments you need should be written down in a health profile or health action plan that the GP or nurse can use.

Do you have to have an annual health check?

No. All parts of the health check are voluntary, but….. be the best you can be! The annual health check helps you to look after your health and that helps you to lead a full and active life.

Anyone who’s having an annual health check, or their carer, can ask the GP or practice nurse for more information about the process.

The person can then give their consent before any tests or procedures are carried out, making sure they fully understand what is happening and why, with support if needed . If it isn’t clear if the person can understand the reasons for the treatment a Best Interests process should be followed.

Is the annual health check the same as the NHS Health Check?

No. The NHS Health Check programme is for all adults aged 40 to 74, people with a learning disability are best to have the Annual Health Check.

It assesses their risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, diabetes and dementia every 5 years.

Find out more about the NHS Health Check here