Nursing and charity leaders have welcomed new funding from the Scottish Government to introduce annual health checks for people in the country with learning disabilities
Health boards will receive £2m collectively in June to support the roll out of the health checks, which will be delivered in the community.
Research shows people with learning disabilities are more at risk of a number of health conditions, die earlier, and are more likely to die from avoidable causes, compared with the general population.
Annual health checks are already provided in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the aim is to identify and treat any health issues as early as possible.
Scottish 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.”
Community learning disability nurse, Sharon Bandeen, who has an adult son with Down’s Syndrome, said: “The new health checks are a welcome additional layer of good health practice for people with learning disabilities in Scotland.”
She stressed the importance of everyone with a learning disability in Scotland being able to access the health checks regardless of where in the country they live.
Eileen McKenna, associate director of Royal College of Nursing Scotland, also welcomed the announcement.
She noted how people with learning disabilities faced “many barriers to accessing healthcare” but also had “significantly more health needs than others”.
For example, 97% of people with learning disabilities took medication, and 94% had other long-term conditions alongside their learning disability such as epilepsy or diabetes.
“These annual health checks will be an essential, reasonable adjustment to assist in identifying and meeting their health needs," Ms McKenna said.
She added that learning disability nurses needed to play a leading role in the health checks.
“Learning disability nurses must be given the opportunity to be central to these checks," she said.
“All other staff who will be involved also need the appropriate training to ensure that the checks are carried out in a way that support the needs of the person and their carer.”
Meanwhile, Eddie McConnell, chief executive of Down’s Syndrome Scotland, said the annual health checks could save lives.
He said: “This is a really significant moment in the lives of people with learning disabilities and their families.
“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.”
Likewise, Dan Scorer, head of policy and public affairs at the learning disability charity Mencap, said: “People with a learning disability face serious barriers to accessing healthcare so the announcement of new funding for annual health checks in Scotland is welcome.
“The rollout of annual health checks has the potential to make a huge difference to the lives of people with a learning disability, providing an important opportunity to assess wellbeing, detect health problems early and develop a health action plan.
“Good quality health checks can improve health outcomes for people with a learning disability and ultimately save lives.”