Scottish governmentA new strategy to improve the health and wellbeing of the 120,000 Scottish people with learning disabilities has been published by the Scottish Government.

The strategy, called The Keys to Life, was developed with COSLA and places a strong focus on ensuring that all health professionals can better meet the needs of people with learning disabilities and enable them to be part of their community.

It also aims to address the fact that people with learning disabilities live 20 years less on average than the general population.

The strategy also supports the introduction of befriending to prevent people with learning disabilities from being isolated; a recent study highlighted the problem after revealing only 1 in 3 people with a learning disability can name a friend.

The Keys to Life is Scotland’s second learning disability strategy, following on from The Same as You?, which was published in 2000. It contains more than 50 recommendations to build on the positive changes made to the lives of people with learning disabilities by the previous strategy.

Minister for Public Health Michael Matheson launched the new strategy at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh to more than 600 people from the NHS, local authorities, learning disability organisations and people with learning disabilities and their families.

“People with learning disabilities tell us that they feel more accepted and valued in their communities than ever before,” said Matheson. “This is something that as a nation we can be proud of.

“By launching a second learning disability strategy, the first country in the UK to do so, we are outlining our commitment to ensuring that people with learning disabilities get the support they need to stay healthy and feel part of our society.

“We want all health professionals, not just those who work in specialist learning disability posts, to understand the needs of people with learning disabilities to be able to respond appropriately.

“Through delivery of this strategy more people with learning disabilities will be supported to better engage with health services, from having longer GP consultations to attending vital screening programmes.

“This strategy outlines our aspiration to have a health service that is committed to changing the fact that the average life expectancy for someone with a learning disability is 20 years less than the general population.”

Minister for Learning, Alasdair Allan, added: “So much progress has been made in recognising a much greater spectrum of learning disabilities and what additional support needs can be made available to allow more and more people overcome any barriers in achieving their ambitions.

“Raising awareness through healthcare is an important step for us to make sure that access and expertise is available to those that need it.”

Councillor Peter Johnston, COSLA’s health and wellbeing spokesperson, said: “We have made significant progress over of the past decade in ensuring that people with learning disabilities are more included in Scottish society. As a result, people with learning disabilities are more able contribute to public life as valued members of our communities.

“Changes in the way we deliver services, including self-directed support and the integration of health and social care, will also give people greater choice and control over their support in the future. 

“However, we face significant challenges in public funding at a time when the shape of our population is changing in a way that means there is more demand for services.  So, in partnership with the Scottish Government, COSLA have developed this new strategy setting out actions we will take with our partners over the next ten years to address these challenges, tackle health inequalities, and ensure people with learning disabilities are supported to achieve their goals and aspirations.”

Peter Scott, chief executive officer of ENABLE Scotland, welcomed the launch of the strategy. “We are pleased that the strategy reflects many of the aspirations, priorities and challenges of our members, and we are confident that its implementation will lead to significantly improved opportunities for people who have learning disabilities and their carers to live their lives to the full.”