General Practice Nurses in frontline of intellectual disability care

Thursday 24 November 2022

General Practice Nurses could make a huge difference in improving the healthcare of people with intellectual disability, but their potential is currently untapped according to Mater Hospital Brisbane’s Queensland Centre for Intellectual and Developmental Disability (QCIDD).

Mater Psychiatrist and researcher Dr Cathy Franklin and researcher Dr Katie Brooker are leading a significant QCIDD research project on care provided to patients with intellectual disabilities after securing almost $1.5 million in National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) funding.

The NHMRC grant announced this week will allow Dr Franklin’s team to improve the access, uptake and impact of primary healthcare measures for people with intellectual disability by building the capacity of General Practice Nurses in this specialist area.  Dr Franklin said capacity-building will occur using the Comprehensive Health Assessment program (CHAP) developed by QCIDD’s former director, Professor Nick Lennox.

“Practice Nurses are in an excellent position to build the capacity of primary care to improve access to preventative care and services for people with intellectual disability,” Dr Franklin said.

“Our Bridge to Better Health project will train General Practice Nurses to work with people with an intellectual disability to get a clear understanding of their healthcare needs. The project will also educate Practice Nurses on the Comprehensive Health Assessment Program for annual health assessments, and help us develop online and in-person support and training resources.”

The project builds on the QCIDD team's strong track record in developing and trialling successful health assessment tools for people with intellectual disability and producing successful large-scale intellectual disability health education for healthcare professionals.

Dr Franklin said most importantly the project will be co-designed with people with intellectual disability and their support people.

“We want to ensure those with the greatest interest in the delivery of better health care have input into our research, which is why we already employ people with intellectual disability in our research team,” she said.

“These team members will help us design and deliver the project. We’ll also have people with intellectual disability oversee the project in advisory roles along with a carer representative and representative from an organisation for people with intellectual disability.”

The project will be evaluated after four years to determine if General Practice Nurse training improves preventative health outcomes including for vaccinations, metabolic syndrome screening and cancer screening in people with intellectual disability aged 15 years and older.

Approximately 450,000 Australians live with intellectual disability according to the Federal Government’s National Roadmap for Improving the Health of People with Intellectual Disability

Compared with the general population, people with intellectual disability experience:

  • more than twice the rate of avoidable deaths
  • twice the rate of emergency department and hospital admissions
  • substantially higher rates of physical and mental health conditions, and
  • significantly lower rates of preventive healthcare.

For more information on Mater Hospital Brisbane’s QCIDD team and the Mater Intellectual Disability and Autism Service (MIDAS) visit the MIDAS website.