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11.01.17

NICE urges annual mental health checks for learning disability patients

People with learning disabilities should receive annual mental health checks, NICE has recommended in new guidelines.

Approximately 40% of adults and 36% of children with learning disabilities experience mental illness at some point, and schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are more common in people with learning disabilities than those without.

Despite this, medical professionals say it is harder to diagnose mental illness in people with learning difficulties, because they may struggle to communicate how they are feeling or what treatment they need.

Ian Rogers, carer and topic expert on the NICE quality standard committee, said: “We know that people with learning disabilities have an increased risk of experiencing mental health problems.

“But their symptoms are sometimes wrongly attributed to their learning disabilities or a physical health problem rather than an alteration in their mental health. This needs to change.”

He added that by NICE recommending annual mental health checks, alongside the physical health checks which are becoming routine, “we can help those suffering in silence get the help they need”.

According to the latest data available, from 2011-12, only half of people with learning disabilities received a health check, and it is not known if the checks included mental health questions.

NICE also said that the checks should be carried out by professionals with expertise in mental illness in people with learning disabilities.

Once they are diagnosed, a keyworker should co-ordinate their care; talking therapies should be co-ordinated to their level of understanding; and if they are prescribed medications, there should be annual documentation on the reasons for continuing this treatment.

According to the latest data available, from 2011-12, only half of people with learning disabilities received a health check, and it is not known if the checks included mental health questions. The life expectancy for people with learning disabilities is 18 years shorter than the national average for women and 14 years shorter for men.

On Monday, Theresa May announced a raft of new measures to improve mental health treatment, including funding for community services and an independent review of children’s services.

The prime minister’s plans have been broadly welcomed across the health sector, but many, including the former care minister Norman Lamb, remain cautious as to whether the initiatives go far enough.

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