My GP and Me – health inequalities facing people with autism and learning disabilities

May 25, 2018

#MyGPandMe, published by Dimensions, exposes the health inequalities facing people with autism and learning disabilities.

The life expectancy for a man with a learning disability is 23 years lower than in the general population, and the life expectancy for a woman with a learning disability is 29 years below average. Patients with autism and learning disabilities are more likely to experience a reduced quality of life, and for health issues to go undiagnosed and untreated.

As the first point of contact for most patients, primary healthcare is a significant part of the problem and the solution.

Research published in #MyGPandMe reveals patients with learning disabilities and autism are far less likely to receive routine cancer screenings than patients in the general population. Only 19% of eligible women with learning disabilities and autism have undergone a cervical cancer screening, compared with 73% of the general population – a gap of 54%. Women with learning disabilities and autism are 10% less likely to have the recommended three-yearly breast screening than other women.

The report also explores other primary healthcare issues that disproportionally affect patients with learning disabilities.

As many as 30,000 to 35,000 people with learning disabilities and autism are at risk of being wrongly prescribed psychotropic medication. Most GPs (80%) recognise the problem and 48% said they would benefit from additional training on prescribing and assessing psychotropic medication for patients with learning disabilities and autism.

Compared to the general population, patients with autism and learning disabilities are 30% less likely to feel ‘listened to’ by their GP, 28% less likely to feel that they have enough time in an appointment, and 22% less likely to feel that they are treated with care and concern.

Under the Equality Act 2010, healthcare providers including GPs are obliged to make reasonable adjustments for patients with learning disabilities, but half of the GPs surveyed by Dimensions said a lack of training on how to make reasonable adjustments was stopping them from meeting the individual needs of patients with autism and learning disabilities.

Almost half of GPs (48%) identified a lack of clarity around when to make reasonable adjustments, and 44% said they didn’t know which reasonable adjustments to offer. Notably, a quarter of GPs (25%) said they don’t have enough time in appointments to make reasonable adjustments for patients.

GPs are not getting the training and support they need to improve health outcomes for patients. Two thirds (64%) of GPs have received less than a day’s training on how to meet the individual needs of patients with autism and learning disabilities.

Encouragingly, GPs themselves are calling for additional training to tackle the issues they’ve identified. Almost all GPs (98%) say they would benefit from additional training led by experts, including people with autism and learning disabilities, to improve health outcomes for patients. 74% said they would like this training to focus on reasonable adjustments.

As part of the #MyGPandMe campaign, Dimensions is working in collaboration with primary healthcare providers to address health inequalities facing people with autism and learning disabilities and improve outcomes.


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