Home Help for families Information & advice Health & medical information Common concerns Annual health checks
10 mins read
Young people aged 14 or over with a learning disability are entitled to a free NHS health check every year. It is a chance for you and your child to talk to the GP and nurse about any health worries and for GPs to spot and treat any health problems early.
On this page, our health expert Amanda discusses annual health checks and answers some of the common questions we hear about them.
Young people aged 14 or over with a learning disability are entitled to a free NHS health check every year.
A GP and/ or a practice nurse will usually carry out the check. It is a chance for you and your young person to talk to the GP and nurse about any health worries and for GPs to spot and treat any health problems early.
Read more in our Annual Health Check factsheet.
The GP or nurse will do a physical check-up, including weight, heart rate, blood pressure and take blood and urine samples. They may ask about common health problems like constipation or about epilepsy or problems with swallowing. They will ask about medications and check whether your young person’s vaccinations and screenings are up to date.
If your child has asthma or diabetes, the GP or nurse will check how it is going. They will check to see if they have other health appointments, such as physiotherapy or speech therapy, and ask if family carers are getting the support they need. They may also advise on healthy eating, exercise, contraception and stopping smoking.
After the check-up, the GP should provide you and your young person with a Health Action Plan to help them know what they need to do to stay healthy.
This may include information on managing any health conditions and detail support they may need to do this. It will state who must provide the support or deliver the service and by when. It may include information on diet, exercise, staying safe and when to go for sight, hearing, and dental checks.
Speak to your GP to ask for your child to be added to the GP Learning Disability Register. They can be added at any age, but they will only start receiving invitations for an annual health check after their 14th birthday.
Your child does not need a formal or clinical diagnosis in order to be added to the register. The GP’s judgement is enough. If it is unclear whether your child has a learning disability, ask the GP to assess them with this simple Learning Disability Register Inclusion Tool.
If your child is over 16, they may need to ask for themselves. If they are unable to make this decision, talk to their GP about making a ‘best interests’ decision using the Mental Capacity Act (2005), which should involve family carers.
Studies show people with learning disabilities have poorer physical and mental health than other people and die younger. Research also shows people with learning disabilities are at greater risk if they get Coronavirus.
Many of these deaths are avoidable. Sometimes health and medical problems get missed because professionals only see people’s disability. Health checks are designed to help tackle these ‘health inequalities’ by detecting and treating health problems earlier.
At the moment, only 53% of people with learning disabilities eligible are having annual health checks.
As well as detecting and treating health problems early, annual checks can make your young person more confident about attending GP appointments. It is a chance for the GP and practice staff to get to know them and their care needs better.
They will record information about any reasonable adjustments and preferred communication methods. For example, they might need longer appointments, easy read information, or a quiet place to wait before their appointment.
The check should lead to a Health Action Plan that can be used to shape health outcomes in your young person’s Education, Health and Care plan.
If your young person needs reasonable adjustments to attend appointments, these can be highlighted in the practice Summary Care Record to help other health services, like emergency services, understand how to work with your son or daughter.
You child being on the register also helps identify you and their siblings as carers. The GP will ask for your young person’s consent to add this information to the record.
GP learning disability registers are a record of all the people registered with the practice that have a learning disability. Every GP surgery has their own learning disability register. This is different from the Register of Disabled Children that all local authorities are required to keep.
People who receive social care support or have a formal diagnosis are not automatically added to their practice’s register. When you ask your GP to add your child to the register, a specific code will be added to their medical record.
The GP Learning Disability Register enables practice staff to identify children, young people and their families who may need extra help or support to access healthcare. Anyone with a learning disability, regardless of whether they have a formal diagnosis, can ask to go on it. Since 2015, the register should include all ages, not just those over 18.
Anyone with a learning disability aged 14 and over, with or without a formal diagnosis, can get a free annual health check. They need to be on the practice’s Learning Disability Register to receive an invitation. You can ask for your child to be registered at any time, but they will only start to be invited for an annual health check when they turn 14.
If it is unclear whether your child has a learning disability, ask the GP to assess them with this simple Learning Disability Register Inclusion Tool.
Anyone with a learning disability can be added to the register even if they do not have a formal diagnosis. A learning disability is defined has having have “a significantly reduced ability to understand new or complex information and to learn new skills with a reduced ability to cope independently, and this must have started before adulthood.”
If it is unclear whether your autistic son or daughter has a learning disability, the GP can assess them using this simple Learning Disability Register Inclusion Tool.
The Department of Health and Social Care is also planning an annual health check for autistic people, but this is still in the pipeline.
You can ask for you child to be added to the practice Learning Disability Register at any time. In fact, the earlier the better!
This should automatically generate their invitation for an annual health check when they turn 14, and it will help the practice understand your child’s needs better when they attend appointments.
Practices may ask you to complete a pre-check questionnaire to gather information about your son or daughter before the health check, either by post, email or over the phone in advance of the health check. This is not the full check.
It is important they also measure your young person’s height weight and heart rate, which needs to be done in person, GPs can learn a lot about someone’s health by looking at their skin tone, eyes and the way they move.
The practice should ask you and your young person what is best or feels safer for them. For example, you may want half the appointment at the GP surgery and half via video link. Or you may prefer to request an online check. You have the right to request reasonable adjustments of this kind to enable your young person to have their health check.
Find out more about reasonable adjustments in our leaflet, Making GP surgeries more welcoming.
Most GP surgeries offer annual health checks to people with a learning disability and are paid for carrying them out. However, GP surgeries do not have to offer this service.
If your GP surgery has not offered your young person an annual health check, you can ask them to provide one. If they say ‘no’, ask your local community learning disability team or learning disability nurse for advice. They should be able to help you access an annual health check.
The practice must make reasonable adjustments (or changes) to make sure that someone with a learning disability can have their annual health check. A reasonable adjustment might include providing information in easy read, conducting the check by video, providing a longer appointment or sending you pictures of the practice and the staff who will conduct the check or providing a quiet waiting area.
Download the Royal College of GP’s toolkit to have a look at their information for GPs on how to conduct a good-quality annual health check for someone with a learning disability.
Before the health check, you and your young person might want to jot down any health worries or issues you want to raise with you GP and ask them if these can be investigated or added to the Health Action Plan.
The GP or practice nurse may do extra tests for young people if their learning disability is linked to a specific health risk. For example, if your young person has Down’s syndrome, they can be tested to see if their thyroid gland is working properly. Tailored health checks may be offered to people with Cerebral Palsy, Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, Fragile X Syndrome, Prader-Willi Syndrome, Rett Syndrome and Williams Syndrome.
Annual Health Checks for people with learning disabilities are entirely voluntary. If you feel your young person’s general health needs are adequately monitored by their specialist/s, you may decide this health check is not for them.
Ask yourself whether their consultant or specialist nurse routinely asks about your child’s eye and dental health and diet. It may be a good idea to introduce your young person to their GP, ensuring GPs find out more about their patients with more complex needs.
The Health Action Plan should include reminders for eyesight and dental appointments which may sometimes get overlooked in busy specialist clinics.
Here are some of our favourites. Supercharged Me is great for explaining health checks in a fun way. We also like the video Health is Everyone’s Responsibility, and Mencap’s Easy Read guide.
Parents can also find out more from our Annual Health Check factsheet and our guide to Making GP surgeries more welcoming.
As you navigate the NHS, it can be useful to know how the system is structured.
Is your child having difficulty meeting certain milestones? We can help.
Get the latest SEND updates, benefits advice, practical help caring for your child, plus free workshops and family events in our weekly email newsletter.
(make sure you select ‘News updates’)
Join our newsletter to receive updates, expert advice for practitioners, and access to exclusive offers for webinars and training sessions.
(make sure you select ‘Practitioner updates’)