Three in four GP Practices don’t offer people with learning disability free flu jabs despite new government guidance

Mencap calls on Public Health England and NHS England to deliver education campaign to GPs

mencap_logoAlmost three in four GP Practices in England do not offer people with a learning disability free flu vaccinations, despite this year’s Flu Plan including learning disability as a ‘clinical risk group’ that should be prioritised. Mencap is calling on Public Health England and NHS England to deliver an education campaign to notify all GPs of this change.

The immediate cause of death for 34% of people with a learning disability is respiratory disorders, including flu and pneumonia – of which flu is a common cause. People with a learning disability are also more than twice as likely to be admitted to hospital as the general population. As a result, Public Health England and NHS England have, for the first time, included people with a learning disability as a high-priority group in this year’s Flu Plan.

Mencap called 100 GP Practices in England. 73% said that they categorically did not provide free flu vaccinations for people with a learning disability, with many suggesting that people with a learning disability should instead go to a high street pharmacy and pay for a vaccination. Many GP Practices even wrongly declared that people with a learning disability “are not in the criteria for this year” or that they would need “a medical condition from the list” to qualify.

Lloyd Page is 55 years old and has a learning disability. He lives in Lewisham and his local GP Practice does not offer him a free flu vaccination: 

“I phoned up my doctors and they told me I can’t get a flu jab until I’m 65 years old. I told them I should be able to get one this year and they still said no. If I got the flu, it would take me a really long time to recover. This means I wouldn’t be able to go to work or leave the house. I live at home with my elderly mother and she would have to look after me. She’s 81 years old and has just had an operation on her knee, so it would be hard for her to look after me.”

Although 17% of GP Practices contacted by Mencap said, with confidence, that they did offer free flu vaccinations to people with a learning disability, the charity is incredibly concerned by the 73% of GP Practices who said they did not offer free flu vaccinations for people with a learning disability and the 10% who said they were unsure.

Mencap is therefore calling on Public Health England and NHS England to actively inform GPs that people with a learning disability should be receiving free flu vaccinations. The charity also believes that the health bodies have a duty to let patients with a learning disability know that they are eligible for free flu vaccinations.

Jan Tregelles, chief executive at Mencap, says: 

“It is clear that Public Health England and NHS England have not done enough to let GPs know that their patients with a learning disability are eligible for free flu vaccinations. This is extremely worrying. People with a learning disability are some of the most vulnerable people in our society when it comes to respiratory problems such as the flu, and they are being deprived of something that they are entitled to and that could potentially save their lives.

“We know that 1,200 people with a learning disability die avoidably in the NHS every year. We know that many people with a learning disability have gone into hospital initially with pneumonia and that a lack of good quality healthcare saw their illnesses escalate to the point where their lives were at risk. Flu vaccinations can potentially prevent people with a learning disability from being admitted to hospital all together – saving the NHS time and money, and more importantly saving people’s lives.

“It is encouraging that the Flu Plan now recognises the need for people with a learning disability to receive free flu vaccinations, and that almost one in five GP Practices confidently offer free flu vaccinations to patients with a learning disability. However, this is nowhere near enough, with people facing yet another lottery of health care. Public Health England and NHS England have not communicated these important changes to GPs, so most are being left in the dark about what their patients are entitled to. They simply must do more.”

About Mencap

There are 1.4 million people with a learning disability in the UK. Mencap works to support people with a learning disability, their families and carers by fighting to change laws, improve services and access to education, employment and leisure facilities. Mencap supports thousands of people with a learning disability to live their lives the way they want. www.mencap.org.uk

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