Background: People with learning disabilities are at increased risk of physical health conditions and mortality compared to the general population. Initiatives to address these health inequalities include the introduction of learning disability registers, through which people with learning disabilities can be identified and offered annual health checks and reasonable adjustments in their healthcare provision. A barrier to offering such initiatives to people with learning disabilities is that practitioners/providers may be unaware of the presence of a learning disability, and people who meet criteria may not be entered onto general practice learning disability registers. Screening tools can be used to help identify people with learning disabilities in order that they can be offered appropriate health services and reasonable adjustments. This study aimed to explore the awareness and views of UK primary care staff about the existence and role of screening tools for learning disability in their services.
Methods: A qualitative approach was used; semistructured online interviews were conducted with a purposive sample of primary care staff recruited via a regional professional network of primary care practitioners. Five general practitioners and one nurse practitioner, representing five primary care practices in the North-East of England, participated. Interview transcripts were analysed using thematic analysis.
Findings: Two themes and associated subthemes were identified. Within Theme 1 (‘I haven't had anything much to do with them') two subthemes related to reasons why screening tools were not routinely used. Theme 2 (‘I think they're great that they exist’) comprised two subthemes that explored the benefits of screening tools, for example, for those practitioners less experienced with people with learning disabilities, and also explored potential reluctance to use them. The study found that most practitioners had some knowledge of screening tools and the general consensus was that they are beneficial. However, the tendency of participants was not to use screening tools in a consistent and/or systematic way, instead relying on informal approaches or other services for identifying the presence of learning disabilities.
Conclusions: The study findings highlight the need for changes in practice to support primary care staff to access and systematically use evidence-based effective and efficient screening tools for learning disability.