My GP and me – people with learning difficulties and autism’s health inequalities

The statistics in the report My GP and Me are shocking – women’s lifespans are cut by 20 years if they have a learning disability, and men by 13 years. Half the people surveyed struggled with long-term constipation due to poor diet, limited exercise and medication, and weren’t attending cancer screenings.

All of this is preventable – and a whopping 98% of GPs surveyed have asked for training to tackle these issues. Many of the health inequalities that people with learning difficulties face could be identified during an annual check-up. But for people who have had a negative experience with doctors and who have anxiety, going to an annual check-up or a cancer screening is a challenge.

The amount of people with learning difficulties going to cancer and cervical screenings is well below the national average, and GPs have asked for more training in this area.

COMMUNICATION

It’s a simple thing, but communication is key to resolving these issues. “I had the same doctor for 20 years,” says Jordan, who has cerebral palsy and learning difficulties. “He was really bad at understanding my needs, and communicating with me. I saw him regularly, and eventually got him to put reasonable adjustments in place, but it took a long time.”

People with learning difficulties reported that the doctor was either talking solely to their support worker, parent or family member and not to them, or vice versa. It’s unsurprisingly that they felt uninvolved in their own health and the medical decisions being made. This means that vital information is not getting across – after all, only a patient knows how they’re feeling, but a support worker might be in a better position to talk about habits, or medication.

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