To help ensure good take-up of health checks in Suffolk workshops are held for people with learning disabilities and their carers explaining what the annual checks involve and how people can get registered for them. They are run by a team of peer educators who are people with learning disabilities themselves who have been trained by Ace Anglia. This case study forms part of the health inequalities hub.
People with learning disabilities have worse health than the rest of the population with much lower life expectancy and high rates of mortality from preventable causes.
Annual health checks for people with learning disabilities are seen as a crucial way of bridging that gap. They are carried out by GPs and involve a physical check-up as well as healthy lifestyle advice and support. But ensuring good uptake remains a challenge – nationally just over half of people with learning disabilities are having them.
‘Peer-led workshops make a difference’
To help ensure good take-up of health checks in Suffolk workshops are held for people with learning disabilities and their carers explaining what the annual checks involve and how people can get registered for them. They are run by a team of peer educators and include demonstrations of the checks that are carried out.
The educators are people with learning disabilities themselves who have been trained by Ace Anglia, one of the key partners in the Suffolk Learning Disability Partnership, which includes the council, local NHS and voluntary sector.
Peer Educator Project Co-ordinator Abbie Oliver-Wilson said:
It is about preparing people so they know what to expect and what to ask. It gives them the confidence to have them and helps them and their carers understand the process around them. Getting a health check is really important to help people with learning disabilities to stay well and healthy.
This is complemented by a team of learning disability practice nurses that work in close partnership with local GPs on the health checks. The work ensures good uptake in Suffolk with participation at 85 per cent – well above the national average.
Pandemic increased uptake – but at what cost?
During the course of the pandemic, these workshops moved online and were delivered by Zoom. The sessions worked well and the number of health checks being done in the county actually increased.
Ms Oliver-Wilson said: “Because the health checks have been done online in recent months, it has actually easier for people to have them. But we are concerned about the quality of checks that were done. There are some signs that people may not then have had the follow-up physical checks, such as blood pressure monitoring, that they should have.
“Locally I know we are looking to review the health checks that have been done so we can make sure things are not missed. It is something we need to be aware of going forward.”
Online wellbeing events ‘add something extra’
Alongside the health check workshops, the team has been hosting weekly digital health and wellbeing events throughout the pandemic. Many have been focussed on Covid and vaccination, but in recent months they have been broadened and events on first aid, breast screening, testicular screening and epilepsy have been held. Specialist doctors and nurses attend and provide advice as well as take questions.
Ms Oliver-Wilson said: “They have proved really popular. During COVD-19 they helped to reassure people and help them understand what was happening. At the vaccine one we had more than 50 people taking part and we have seen a rise in interest in things like screening off the back of the others.”
Now restrictions have eased, Ace Anglia plans is starting to get back to doing face-to-face workshops for the health checks, but the wellbeing events will remain largely digital.
“It is something that actually works really well done digitally,” said Ms Oliver-Wilson. “We cover a large area and people would find it more difficult to attend if they were done in-person. We would also be unlikely to get the health professionals taking part as it could take up quite a bit of time for them.”
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