Animation focusing on the challenges of people with learning disabilities in primary care


Empowering healthcare professionals to take positive action to support people accessing primary care.

An emotive animation film has been created highlighting the challenges people with learning disabilities face when accessing Primary Care, aiming to empower healthcare professionals to take positive action.

The film, produced by Strange Beast and Directed by Ivyy Chen, is in collaboration with Surrey Heartlands ICS Research Team and The Sunnybank Trust.

Through the accounts of people with a learning disability and their families, this unique study explores the barriers faced in accessing Primary Care services, specifically drawing out the experiences of patients around Annual Health Checks.

Annual Health Checks support people with a learning disability to make better-informed decisions about their health and help reduce health inequalities. Through this tool, health needs can be identified and supported for the long term. Despite recent improvements, low uptake has been attributed to low levels of awareness of the benefits and value of this programme.

In this study, Researchers from Surrey Heartlands partnered with Surrey-based charity, The Sunnybank Trust. The charity supports adults with learning disabilities, a group who are among the most vulnerable and socially excluded in our society. The project features the voices and real-life experiences of those with a learning disability, echoing the participation principle of “Nothing about us, without us”.

Animation is a perfect medium for this message as it can engage individuals with a powerful 5-minute film in a way which likely would not be achieved with a written report. The short film offers a starting point for action and discussion around the positive changes that can be made to improve access to Primary Care and address health inequalities for people with learning disabilities.

Produced by animation studio Strange Beast, the film has been directed by Ivyy Chen. Ivyy has brought her crafted and painterly aesthetic to the piece, making it visually very accessible which goes hand in hand with the subject matter.

The research and animation was funded by the NHS and Surrey Heartlands Health and Care Partnership.

Liz Bruce, Joint Executive Director of Adult Social Care and Integrated Commissioning for Surrey County Council, and across Surrey Heartlands ICS, said: “This research is absolutely key in ensuring our health and care system is inclusive, accessible and effective for everyone. Here in Surrey, we want to ensure no one is left behind, and this project gives practitioners and wider frontline staff across NHS and social care a deeper understanding about how to engage and care for people with learning disabilities. The animation format helps us quickly and easily understand these views and I hope it will prove effective in delivering better outcomes for people with learning disabilities in Surrey.”

Reflecting on this work, Dorothy Watson, The Sunnybank Trust CEO, said: "The Sunnybank Trust is extremely proud of our partners with a learning disability and the work they have put into this project, often sharing their most private moments in an effort to help others and ignite real change.

As an organisation that supports people with learning disabilities, we witness the daily challenges that our partners face when accessing health care.  We hope that the messages in this video reach those in healthcare roles across the country in order for true positive change to be made. It's only when we work together that we can achieve a high standard of care for all."

"They put it all in medical words, I can't understand what they're saying. I'm alright if someone explains to me what they've got to do first. They have to explain the reasons and what they've got to do step by step. It’s not just GPs, it’s doctors in general... they have to make things simpler” stated one of the people interviewed.

Asked to comment on the topic, Dr Julia Chase, a Surrey-based GP, highlighted the key role of Annual Health Checks: “The Annual Health Checks for people with learning disabilities are hugely important. They allow the GP to pick up any potential health issues and address any patient or carer’s concerns. They also form the foundation of an ongoing doctor-patient relationship that is based on trust, continuity of care and patient-centred support. The aim is that these checks provide a space for people with learning disabilities where they feel heard, supported and valued by the primary care team.”

People with a learning disability have worse physical and mental health than people without a learning disability.

On average, the life expectancy of women with a learning disability is 18 years shorter than for women in the general population. For men, 14 years shorter (Mencap, 2022; NHS Digital, 2017).

Poor quality healthcare is one of the main causes of health inequalities and avoidable deaths in people with a learning disability.

Despite the existing body of research highlighting the challenges people with a learning disability face in accessing Primary Care, and the initiatives created which aim at reducing those health inequalities, such as Annual Health Checks, problems and barriers remain.



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