GP and childSpecific training on learning disabilities should be made compulsory for health professionals, according to 93% of GPs interviewed as part of Mencap’s Getting It Right – From The Start (GIR-FTS) project.

GIR-FTS was discussed by leading health experts including former head of the British Medical Association Baroness Hollins, at last week's All Party Parliamentary Group [15 July]. The three-year project is designed to improve the inequalities in primary care suffered by many people with a learning disability, detailed in Mencap’s major ‘Death by Indifference’ report.

The project saw 718 medical staff from 72 GP surgeries attend workshops run by Mencap and delivered by people with a learning disability. A survey was taken at the beginning and end of the project by all participating health professionals, volunteers and people with a learning disability.

A full evaluation of the project has been published, which has shown dramatic improvements to the healthcare given to people with a learning disability, who consistently suffer from substandard treatment, in some cases leading to avoidable deaths.

Ensure avoidable deaths stop happening
Key successes from the project which worked in partnership with 4 clinical commissioning groups were:
• Non-medical staff receiving basic training in learning disability issues rose from 29% to 95% over the course of the project
• At the baseline stage, 26% of people with a learning disability across the project reported they did not understand the information given to them by their GPs. None of the case study subjects reported having this problem
• 78% of practices now report taking steps to ensure the quality of health checks for people with a learning disability, compared to 42% at the beginning of the project
• Surgeries who reported that all GPs in their practices had attended a learning disability-related training event in the past 2 years rose from 21% at the baseline stage to more than 67% now.

Rhea Sinha, project manager of GIR-FTS, said: "We are aware that over 1,200 people with a learning disability die avoidably every year in our NHS. Much of this is due to health professionals not knowing enough about learning disability and attributing complaints of pain as a symptom of a patient’s learning disability.

"This project and the evaluation have shown how simple, non-costly initiatives and making reasonable adjustments can dramatically improve healthcare for people with a learning disability. The GP surgeries involved made these reasonable adjustments accessible and inclusive and people with a learning disability said they have received significantly better care as a result."

Further reading: Future proofing - planning for care over 70

Jan Tregelles, chief executive, Mencap said: "At Mencap we hear too many stories of people with a learning disability having their health issues misdiagnosed and suffering greatly as a consequence. This scheme has proven to be highly successful by showing what a difference small changes can make.

"However now we have this evidence these recommendations need to be rolled out more widely, to ensure avoidable deaths stop happening, and people with a learning disability receive the same quality of healthcare as anyone else."