Contact a Family has published two new guides for GPs to help increase their understanding of the specialist services that disabled children access and to make their practices more welcoming for them.
Making GP Practices More Welcoming for Families with Disabled Children and GP practice guide: supporting disabled children and young people were developed following a national survey carried out by the charity that revealed over three quarters of parents with disabled children don’t visit their GP about their child’s condition. Many told the charity they find it difficult to access their doctor and find it easier to visit their local A&E.
Making GP Practices More Welcoming for Families with Disabled Children explores the potential consequences if children are seen in A&E rather than by their GP and explains why families of disabled children can find it difficult to visit a surgery. It also offers practical steps that practices can take to make it easier for disabled children to visit their GP such as:
- Offering carers appointment times at the start of clinics when there is likely to be less of a wait
- Offering children with sensory overload the option of waiting in a quiet room if one is available or waiting in their car and being called on their mobile when the doctor is nearly ready to see them.
- Letting families see the same GP for most visits, so the GP becomes familiar with the child’s support needs
GP practice guide: supporting disabled children and young people aims to help GPs co-ordinate care for disabled children. It describes the roles of the wide range of health professionals who work with disabled children and the specialised services they access, some of the issues disabled children frequently present with, who can support them and patient information that GPs can provide to families.
Sheila Davies responsible for developing Contact a Family’s guide says: “Many children or young people with neurological conditions or learning disabilities can find it difficult to be in a room with lots of people and become distressed if they have to wait a long time. If this happens in the GPs waiting room it can make it more difficult for the clinician to examine them, take their medical history and check the child and family are receiving the support they need.
“We continually hear from parents of disabled children who have not received any information to help them support their disabled child around basic issues such as dental care, toilet training, feeding and eating, sleep and behaviour. These can be particularly challenging for parents of disabled children. GPs could improve health outcomes for the child and family by simply providing information to help parents manage these and referring for specialist help when needed.”
Dr Ella Baines, London GP and mother of a disabled child says: “Taking my disabled son to see the GP can be difficult – sometimes it can feel like a battle. Even sitting in the waiting room can be a challenge. I always hope the doctor will take into account his disabilities but not be overwhelmed by them, but that’s difficult if my son is distressed or if we see someone new. As a GP myself, I work with many families with disabled children. For me, getting to know a disabled child when they are well is key to assessing them properly and understanding the whole family means we work together to make decisions.
These guidelines are an invaluable resource for GPs to break down some of the barriers for disabled children trying to access primary care. It’s important that we ensure families with disabled children see the GP as the first port of call rather than the last resort when their child is unwell. Simple adjustments to appointments and seating areas, for example, can drastically improve a family’s experience of seeing the GP. The guidelines help to highlight how we as GPs can give families with disabled children consistent support and understanding, providing a trusted and long lasting working relationship.