Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust (KCHFT) has been leading on a collaborative project with primary care providers, which aims to tackle health inequalities for people with learning difficulties.
The original project’s main focus was to increase the number of health checks that were being carried out for people with learning disabilities, over the course of a 12-week trial.
KCHFT states that annual health checks are “vital for adults with learning disabilities” as statistics show they “have significantly poorer health than non-disabled peers” and that the checks “are an effective way to identify previously unrecognised health needs, including those associated with life-threatening illnesses”.
The trust says that, nationally, “the annual health check target for adults with learning disabilities is 75 per cent”. However, from 1 April 2018 to 31 March 2019, it adds that “only 42.9 per cent of adults with learning disabilities had completed their annual health check”.
To tackle this, the project team worked with six GPs across Kent, using quality improvement (QI) methodology and tools, while data was collected, monitored and measured throughout, to evidence improvement.
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, three of the selected GP surgeries had to cancel their adult health check clinics, but the project team still achieved an increase in checks overall. While, the three surgeries that continued to provide the service during the pandemic completed checks with 93 to 100 per cent of their learning disability patients.
From January to March 2021, the trust offered 176 annual health checks in total to adults with learning disabilities. Around 49 per cent of these resulted in advice to support care needs and 32 per cent generated a referral to the trust’s learning disability team. The trust adds that this includes people who had not “previously been known to the service”.
Although the work was complicated and cut short by the pandemic, the project has since been “adapted and built upon”, according to the trust, with the success of the pilot meaning that the service is now being shared more widely in the Kent area.
The trust is currently working with five GPs on a second project, which will trial the service using the same model, with a KCHFT learning disability nurse supporting the annual clinics.
KCHFT Specialist Community Matron, Lisa Harrington, said: “We wanted to improve the uptake and quality of these annual health checks. Working with GPs, patients and their carers, we were able to take a proactive approach to improving the health and wellbeing of adults with learning disabilities.
“The findings evidence the value of learning disability nurses being involved in this process. By introducing annual health check clinics at GP surgeries throughout Kent, reaching the national target is much more achievable. GPs taking part also fed back on the increased quality of the checks.”