Unit addresses health needs of people with intellectual or developmental disabilities

24 Sep 2015

People with intellectual or developmental disabilities have a 60 percent higher mortality rate than the general population and are twice as likely to be hospitalised.

Despite this, their health care is under-resourced and often inaccessible in Australia, according to University of Queensland Social and Preventive Medicine Associate Professor Nick Lennox.

Dr Lennox said the situation would be partially redressed with the official opening of the Developmental Disability Unit on Wednesday, July 7.

A joint Queensland Government and University of Queensland initiative, the Unit, based at the Mater Hospital, has been building in strength since its beginnings in late 1997.

Unit staff work towards improving the health of people with both intellectual and developmental disabilities, through a variety of avenues. Developmental disabilities can encompass both intellectual and physical disabilities and include conditions such as autism, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome.

The Unit offers a clinical consultation service, is conducting various research projects and implements an educational program. Services are designed for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their carers, medical students, trainee psychiatrists and general practitioners (GPs) and staff from support organisations such as the Endeavour Foundation and the Department of Families, Youth and Community Care.

Dr Lennox, also Unit director, said Australia's health services and facilities for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities were lacking compared with other Western countries such as the United Kingdom (UK).

"In the UK, there are 30 doctors with a specialist knowledge of adults with an intellectual disability for every 100,000 general population. This is compared to 1.6 for the whole of Queensland," he said.

In March this year, Dr Lennox compiled what is believed to be the first comprehensive "whole-of-life" handbook of health problems and issues concerning this group for GPs. It covers areas such as delivering babies with disabilities, sexuality and assessing children with a likely developmental or intellectual disability.

Queensland's Department of Families, Youth and Community Care Minister Anna Bligh will open the Unit. Senior academic in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge Dr Tony Holland will be guest speaker at the opening to be held in the Parliamentary Annex from noon until 3pm. A "hypothetical" will be held following the opening, discussing a fictional, controversial health care case. Doctors, a lawyer, family members and advocacy groups will be involved.

For more information, contact Associate Professor Nick Lennox (telephone 07 3840 2412).