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TX: 09.06.04 – UK FACES NATIONAL SHORTAGE OF SPEECH THERAPISTS

PRESENTER: SHEILA McCLENNON



THE ATTACHED TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT. BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY

MCCLENNON
There's a national shortage of speech therapists working in the NHS and as a result children who've been identified as needing help are facing long delays before treatment. At the same time teachers are increasingly concerned that poor communication skills mean many children are unprepared for school. Poor verbal skills can not only hinder learning, they can also make it much harder for a child to mix and make friends. We spoke to one mother, Nicola Corless [phon.], whose son Matthew starts school in September.

NICOLA CORLESS [PHON.]
Matthew's nursery teacher spoke to us seven or eight months ago now to say that she was concerned that Matthew needed speech therapy because he was struggling to make himself understood. She was very concerned about what effect that would have on him when he makes friends in school and it would affect his reading. So he was referred eight months ago. We were told there was a three month waiting list. We still haven't even got an appointment, no signs of an appointment. We have complained to our local health authority and they've said because of the shortage of speech therapists in our area that they had no idea when he would be seen, he's still on the waiting list. When he was initially referred I was very grateful to his teacher for actually pointing it out to us and I was grateful to that she had pointed it out early so we could get the help that everybody feels he needs before he goes to school. And the fact that he's now been on the waiting list for seven or eight months and he won't be seen before September, it makes very cross, it makes very upset.

ACTUALITY
What school do you go to Matthew?

Err [name of school]. We learn to do writing.

MCCLENNON
Matthew Corless with Louise Cocker. Well joining me is Kamini Gadhok, who's the chief executive of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists. Kamini, are lots of children, like Matthew, facing long waits before they're assessed or treated?

GADHOK
Yes I think that is the case and we have every sympathy with this mother and her experiences of trying to access speech therapy for her child. Unfortunately it's a situation that we hear about from parents on a regular basis.

MCCLENNON
Is it happening nationwide?

GADHOK
Yes I think there is a crisis here. Speech therapy, as you said, is recognised nationally as a shortage profession. The true demand for speech language therapy has never been properly identified and even the vacancies that exist can't be filled - there's not enough speech and language therapists have been trained.

MCCLENNON
Well you talk of a crisis Kamini, we did ask the Department of Health for a statement and what they said was that there's actually been a 20% increase in NHS speech therapists since 1999 and by 2008 there'll be 30,000 more therapists and scientists - they don't actually break down how that is between the two. And that training is up by 31%.

GADHOK
Well we've been working with them very hard on workforce planning and we've also been working on encouraging speech language therapists who've had children to return to the profession. So some of those increases are not necessarily newly trained therapists but people coming back to work. I think our main concerns, however, are that the Government is introducing a new pay and conditions system which might actually affect people staying within the profession once they're trained.

MCCLENNON
This is this Agenda for Change. Now it affects speech therapists quite seriously doesn't it because you've recently won a 14 year equal pay battle in the European courts and that's under review and it could actually be taken away.

GADHOK
That's right. We've had some test sites that have been looking at what the changes might mean and in one service alone four highly experienced and expert speech therapists will lose £7,000 a year. So our main fear is that speech therapists will leave the profession.

MCCLENNON
What is morale like at the moment? We've had some e-mails Kamini from very angry and frustrated speech therapists. Samantha Wallace says that the profession will suffer enormous recruitment and retention difficulties if these pay cuts go ahead. Dr Fiona Stewart says it will impact on the vulnerable who by their very nature struggle to have their views heard.

GADHOK
Yes I think we would agree with that. The profession will also be seen as a less attractive career choice for students and those who are already coming out or considering leaving fairly soon. So even though the Government's investing heavily in training they may well have invested and not actually supported retaining staff because of the new pay and conditions. We know that at a recent conference a senior civil servant informed 200 speech therapists that he spoke to that we would face a significant pay cut and I think the messages are that the profession feels not - it doesn't feel valued and that Government does not care about people with communication difficulties.

MCCLENNON
Another speech therapist I spoke to said she'd seriously quitting the NHS and setting up in private practice and sometimes she wonders if that's actually what the NHS wants.

GADHOK
Well I think obviously people are looking at the alternatives and clearly we would not want that to happen, it would be very important to try and keep people to work and support the NHS, which has developed a really excellent service in some parts of the country. Some of our speech therapists are intentionally renowned for their work and in fact work abroad to support others and it would be a shame if we lost that expertise to the private sector.

MCCLENNON
Why are we seeing a bigger demand for speech therapy - are we just picking up more problems or is there a real need?

GADHOK
I think the need has increased, there's certainly been an increase in the number of children referred, as you said earlier on - there's greater awareness of the link between communication difficulties and how well children can access the curriculum in schools, for example, in learning to read and write. Also advances in medical technology mean that more babies are surviving what would be difficult births but often with a certain level of disability, which requires ongoing support.

MCCLENNON
And of course the thing that sometimes people forget is that you don't just work with children, you work with people who've suffered a stroke, for example, or adults with learning disabilities.

GADHOK
That's right. The shortages will affect all the groups that speech language therapists work with. We work with babies who may have feeding and swallowing difficulties, born with hearing impairment or cleft lip and palate and as you said children with a whole range of communication needs, as well as adults who might have had other difficulties like head injury or cancer of the throat.

MCCLENNON
And do you see the situation getting worse?

GADHOK
Well we would have hoped that the situation would have improved, as I said, previously we've been working very hard with Government on improving recruitment retention and return to work, as well as working with them on modernising services to improve service development and delivery. But we feel that all of this good work is now in jeopardy as a result of Government introducing Agenda for Change.

MCCLENNON
Okay Kamini Gadhok there we will leave it. Thank you very much.

GADHOK
Thanks very much.


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