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Health checks for vulnerable

Half of all patients with learning difficulties have unidentified health needs and an 'impressive minority' are missing out on treatment for a serious illness, a new study warns.

The findings have prompted health boards in Wales to introduce a new Directed Enhanced Service from April, paying GPs to conduct health checks in those with intellectual disability.

The study of health checks in 181 patients with learning difficulties found 51 per cent had health needs which had not previously been identified.

Some 17 per cent of these had serious illnesses including asthma, diabetes and haematuria.

Study leader Professor Michael Kerr, chair in learning disabilities and honorary consultant in neuropsychiatry at the University of Cardiff, said: 'People with intellectual disability tend to miss having disease recognised. Health checks are one way to correct the disparity.'

He said the new DES in Wales ­ which will be watched closely by other parts of the UK ­ would use the strengths of primary care to address the needs of the most vulnerable patients.

Professor Kerr's study was set in 40 general practices in Wales. Among the problems health checks commonly identified were blocked ears, high blood pressure, systolic murmur and vision difficulties. Professor Kerr said even minor problems could have serious consequences for people who found communication difficult.

Dr Alison Alborz, lecturer in complex learning disability studies at the University of Manchester, said her own research suggested up to 97 per cent of people with learning disabilities had unmet health needs. But she warned health checks would only happen with the necessary resources.

Dr Andrew Dearden, GPC Wales chair, told Pulse the DES was being negotiated, 'based on an annual health check'.

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