Screening for breast cancer is vital for all women, but much harder to access for those with a learning disability.
People with learning disabilities can find it difficult to communicate symptoms and provide key personal information for accurate diagnoses. This group may have problems accessing general health information and may find GP surgeries and hospitals somewhat daunting.
A project launched by the Walsall Integrated Learning Disability team, part of the inequality-busting Pacesetters partnership between local communities and the Department of Health, is working to raise awareness and improve access to services and health information. A specific target is to reduce deaths from breast cancer among women with learning disabilities by making screening services more accessible.
A key element of the team's approach has been to involve users in shaping and implementing the project. A 'buddying' system was set up to ensure their voice was heard.
This approach has yielded some impressive results. Breast screening rates have risen to such an extent that the same approach is now being applied to cervical and bowel cancer screening. Memorably titled health groups 'Looking after our Bits' and 'Looking after our Bits & Bobs' have started, and health information redesigned.
Users say the project has helped to remove their fear of mainstream services. One who has recently used the breast screening service said: "It makes us not feel scared about things, especially the hospital. We talk about health all the time now, we didn't before. I have got bad eyes and diabetes. It is nice that I can call someone if I am worried and they will tell me what the matter is. I am not worried anymore."