health, public sector

Improved sex education – in bid to reduce abuse

PEOPLE with learning disabilities are to get better sex education – thanks to a new initiative in Lothian.

Public sector bosses hope the move will give disabled people clear guidance on their rights – and reduce cases of abuse.

Brian Cavanagh, chair of NHS Lothian, said: “For a long time, the sexual and relationship needs of people with learning disabilities have been ignored or not dealt with adequately . . . to the point that it left people vulnerable and at the risk of abuse.

“We’re now launching a new policy and guidelines to tackle these issues. The aim is to train and prepare staff to offer better support and sex education – allowing disabled people to enjoy the rights we’re all entitled to.”

As part of the initiative – backed by NHS Lothian and East, West, Midlothian and Edinburgh Councils – support workers are being given detailed packs containing factsheets and training notes. The packs contain a wide range of information – from information on parenthood and abortion to sexually transmitted infections and gay relationships.

Bosses say this is the first time this type of guidance has been produced to help people with learning disabilities in Scotland. They hope the Lothian example with provide a blueprint for authorities in other parts of the country.

The guidance – under the banner of “Making Choices, Keeping Safe” – has also been welcomed by people with learning disabilities.

Mr Cavanagh said workers in social work, health and education departments had often been unsure of their roles and responsibilities regarding sex education – or whether they would be supported by employers.

“This new policy and practice guidelines should clear up any confusion,” he said.

Rachel Yates, a senior health promotion specialist with NHS Lothian, said: “Many people with learning disabilities do not need help or guidance about their sex lives from support workers – but some do.

“All the public bodies involved believe that people with learning difficulties will benefit from these new guidelines. It will also help staff do their jobs more effectively – giving more consistent, and appropriate advice.”

She added that voluntary sector partners – such as FAIR (Family Advice and Information Resource) – had also been closely involved in drafting the new guidelines.

A Scottish Executive report in 2000 suggested that were around 120,000 people in Scotland with learning disabilities. However, it is estimated that only a quarter of these (30,000) were in regular contact with local authorities and health services.

ENABLE – the largest membership organisation in Scotland for people with learning disabilities and their families – welcomed the new guidelines.

Pat Christie, the chairperson of ENABLE said: “These guidelines clearly recognise the importance of sexual wellbeing and relationships in the lives of people with learning disabilities. ENABLE is delighted that NHS Lothian and its partners have produced them and we hope other health authorities will follow their lead.”

Around 1,000 copies of the new guidance pack are being distributed around the Lothians to workers supporting disabled people. The cost of the initiative – £11,000 – is being spread between the main public partners.

Issued by Adrian Mahoney of The PR Store
on behalf of NHS Lothian