Health boards in Scotland are to share £2 million extra funding to deliver annual health checks for all people with learning disabilities.

It is hoped that this new service will help to address health inequalities and ensure that people in this group are able to have any health issues identified and treated as quickly as possible.  

Health checks will be delivered in the local community and the funding will reach boards in June.

Mental Wellbeing Minister Kevin Stewart said: “Unfortunately we know that people with learning disabilities can experience poorer health than the rest of the population. Evidence suggests that people in this group are twice as likely to die from preventable illness. This is clearly unacceptable and I hope these annual checks will help to address this and begin to reduce this health inequality.

“Health issues like respiratory disorders, diabetes and thyroid problems can become serious if picked up too late. But if they are detected and treated early there’s a much better chance of a positive outcome and a good quality of life. That is where these annual health checks will be so valuable.”

Learning disability health checks associated with reduced mortality

This will be welcome news given a recent study published in BMJ Open found that health checks for people with a learning disability are associated with reduced mortality, particularly for autistic people and those with Down’s syndrome.

The team at the National Centre for Population Health & Wellbeing Research, based at Swansea University, analysed the medical records of 26,954 people with a learning disability in Wales between 2005 and 2017.

They said that as people with a learning disability experience more health conditions such as epilepsy, autism, and dental problems and are at a higher risk of leading sedentary lives and becoming overweight, subsequently developing diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and respiratory disease, having a medical check is particularly important.

Down’s Syndrome Scotland said the extra funding was a really significant moment in the lives of people with learning disabilities and their families.  

Chief Executive Eddie McConnell added: “The rollout of the annual health checks across Scotland has the potential to be a game-changer in improving the health outcomes for this community who deserve equal access to good health.  It is no exaggeration to say that a well-implemented annual health check could save lives.”