Access to mainstream health services: a case study of the difficulties faced by a child with learning disabilities



Accessible summary

  • People with learning disabilities need to visit the doctor like everyone else, but this is sometimes difficult.
  • This paper is about a boy who needed to have a blood test.
  • It took seven appointments and 15 weeks to take a blood sample.
  • This paper talks about ways that medical services could get better and change to help people with learning disabilities visit the doctor.


People with learning disabilities have higher levels of health needs compared with the general population (Nocon, 2006, Background evidence for the DRC's formal investigation into health inequalities experienced by people with learning disabilities or mental health problems. London and Manchester, Disability Rights Commission). Research has shown that these individuals receive less effective health care (Michael, 2008, Tizard Learn Disabil Rev, 13: 28) and has explored the challenges and barriers in accessing health services (Jackson Brown & Guvenir, 2009, Br J Learn Disabil, 37: 110). This case study describes the experience of a child with a severe learning disability and his family accessing mainstream health care for a simple medical procedure. Implications for how healthcare services can be organised to meet the needs of learning disabled people are discussed, addressing issues such as physical environment of surgeries and hospitals, communication between staff teams, staff skills and lack of preparedness.