Improving the quality time for people with learning difficulties and disabilities
As a nation we can be proud of the some of the changes in the quality of life for people with learning disabilities. People with learning disabilities tell us that they are generally much more accepted and valued in their communities than they ever were before. They are rightly seen as people who can contribute to British society in very positive ways. For some, the biggest change was the closure of long-stay hospitals. For others, having their own tenancy or being in employment or having good friends and relationships has been transforming. But to be truly accepted in society means being treated equally and fairly in other ways. It means having a health service that recognises and redresses the stark fact that people with learning difficulties still die 20 years earlier than the general population. This is simply not acceptable.
Whilst there are many committed practitioners out there, they tend to be specialists who have chosen to work with people with learning disabilities. We need to ensure that all those who work in health care understand the health needs of people with learning disabilities, how these can differ from the general population and to respond appropriately and positively. This is not always about the application of knowledge but about an attitudinal and cultural shift in supporting individuals to lead healthier and happier lives. That is why the emphasis in this ten year strategy is on health issues. That is not to say we are reverting back to old practices where the medical profession were able to make decisions about the social lives of people with learning disabilities. It is about improving health practice and outcomes so that people’s human rights are respected and upheld. If a person’s health is compromised then that is life-limiting. People with learning disabilities should also be supported to live independently in the community wherever possible. To deliver the changes necessary to improve services requires partnership working and joint commissioning by statutory organisations. However, to deliver the changes necessary they need to involve the third sector and most
importantly people with learning difficulties and their carers to ensure that developments are fit for purpose.