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NHS data currently shows an alarmingly high rate of missed health checks – many of which are vital to maintaining good health – amongst patients in England with learning difficulties. These include the likes of cancer screenings, blood pressure checks and mental health evaluations.
The data shows that compared to a national average of around 70%, only 50% of eligible women with learning difficulties are getting screened for breast cancer specifically. The news raises the spectre of widespread delayed diagnosis and the prospect of delayed diagnosis compensation claims when patients inevitably present with symptoms that have significantly worsened as a result of irregular monitoring.
Unearthed as part of a digital report into the NHS, the data associated with these revelations was drawn from patients with and without learning difficulties from more than half of all GP practices nationwide and is thought to account for around 60% of all patients registered with a GP. The NHS currently recommends that patients with learning difficulties undergo an annual health check to assess complex health requirements, review medication administration and to undergo a general physical check-up, but the report found that less than 50% actually do. This also meant that checks for chronic conditions such asthma and serious afflictions such as epilepsy were not being carried out, presenting a significant risk of misdiagnosis later on, which is potentially actionable by making a medical negligence compensation claim.
Perhaps most worryingly, the data suggests that on average, patients with learning difficulties are afflicted with a life expectancy 16 years lower than the general population.
In order to combat these inadequacies surrounding healthcare for those with learning difficulties in England, the Mencap charity now run a campaign aimed at increasing awareness amongst affected families, and making sure that those most in need of it can access help from their GP. They cite a number of criteria as responsible for the low percentages of eligible patients receiving the necessary care, including inaccessibility to transport, anxiety, low confidence and lack of understanding from medical staff. Strategic Development Manager for Health Manager Rachel Ashcroft issued the following statement to the BBC:
“Visiting the GP can be incredibly difficult if you have a learning disability…Being on the GP’s learning disability register can ensure healthcare is much more accessible and can result in better health outcomes for people with a learning disability.”
Mencap currently estimate that around 1,200 entirely preventable deaths occur every year amongst patients with learning difficulties as a result of poor access to healthcare, suggesting that the scope for medical negligence claims could be very large indeed.