Mencap welcomed an NHS pledge to provide annual health checks for people with learning disabilities in England as a “major step forward in reducing health inequalities”.
However, the charity expressed concern that GPs would be able to opt out of the voluntary service.
The £22m scheme, which runs until 2010, is one of five new directed enhanced services agreed between the NHS and British Medical Association.
GPs and practice staff will be required to undergo training, and integrate checks with the individual health action plans of patients on local authority registers. Surgeries will then receive £100 for each examination.
National officer for Mencap, Beverley Dawkins, said the announcement was a victory for a long-running campaign, launched by the charity before the idea was floated in the government’s white paper, Choosing Health, in November 2004.
“If people with learning disabilities and their families are allowed to shape the training programmes, it should help professionals to build up their skills in this area,” Dawkins said. She explained it would be a “key strand” in identifying the health needs of people with learning disabilities, who generally die at a younger age than the rest of the population.
But she added: “We would rather it was compulsory and continued on a long-term basis.”
Andrew Clapperton, head of primary care contracting at NHS Employers, said: “We anticipate that most practices will see the benefit for their patients in providing these services.”
The announcement comes two months after Sir Jonathan Michael’s independent inquiry into access for healthcare for people with learning disabilities, which recommended annual health checks.
Sir Jonathan Michael’s report