GPs should now check people with learning disabilities’ mental health whenever they come for their annual physical check-up, draft guidance from the National Institution of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is urging.
Approximately 1.5 million people in the UK have a learning disability, and it is estimated that 40% of adults and 36% of children with learning disabilities in the UK experience mental health problems.
Physical health checks were recommended in the challenging behaviour guideline (NICE, 2005), but this is the first time that the Guideline Committee agreed that mental health should be included in the annual check.
In response to the guidance – which is open for consultation until April – Professor Mark Baker, director for the Centre of Clinical Practice at NICE, said: “Absolutely anyone can experience mental health problems at any stage of their life. People with learning disabilities cannot always communicate their distress, and their symptoms can be masked or mistakenly overlooked. This means we need to do more to support them, their families and their care workers.”
The Committee now also emphasised the importance of including someone who knows the person well to be included in the health check.
The health check should include a review of any known or suspected mental health problems and how they are linked to physical health problems.
For adults with Down’s Syndrome, GPs must ask the person and their family member/carer about any changes that could be linked to dementia, eg, any loss of skills, a need for more prompting or a change in behaviour.
The check should also include a physical health review, considering common conditions for those with learning disabilities, and review their current medicine, side effects and adherence.
It also recommends specialised, communication-focused parent training programmes, which would consist of eight to 12 group sessions aiming to provide support and raise awareness in those families that have children with learning disabilities.
See the consultation guidance here.