Positive news for people with disabilities and carers

There aren’t many weeks when you get not just one but three separate announcements that have the potential to transform the lives of thousands of people.

Last Monday, it was revealed that a new stem cell treatment for multiple sclerosis has had life-changing results for many of the people taking part in a trial.Aimed at those with the most common form of the condition, relapsing and remitting MS, the radical new procedure works by wiping out the immune system with chemotherapy, then restoring it with a stem cell transplant.Specifically developed for those who have not responded to MS drug treatments, it appears to have halted the disease for the majority of people involved.

More research is needed but, hailed by experts as ‘a game-changer’, the results offer new hope to people living with this type of MS, with possible applications to other neurological conditions too.

Then last Tuesday, we learned that the Scottish Parliament had agreed to extend the definition of terminal illness to the last two years of life, rather than the current six months. The decision came during the debate around the new Social Security (Scotland) Bill which will shape our new social security system when powers are devolved from Westminster to Holyrood.

This redefinition is significant. Campaigners have long argued that the existing six months definition was inadequate to cover the different types of terminal illnesses and ensure people get the benefits and support they need at the end of their lives. This extension will go some way to ensuring people diagnosed with a terminal condition will be treated with greater dignity and respect in their final months and years.

Then thirdly, we await the launch of Scotland’s new Carers Act on 1 April. This important piece of legislation will give the country’s estimated 759,000 unpaid carers legal rights for the very first time. There are still lots of questions to be answered about how it will be implemented. But with the potential to make a significant difference to so many who currently receive little or no help, I sincerely hope this will be another area where Scotland will lead the world.

Mairi O'Keefe, Chief Executive, Leuchie House. Published in The East Lothian Courier, 29 March 2018.