8 March 2022

The RCSLT calls on the government to remove barriers preventing people with communication and swallowing needs having better lives

The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) has today (8 March 2022) said that the government’s NHS Reform Plan is a welcome start; but that the Road to Recovery must remove barriers preventing people with communication and swallowing needs having better lives. This will promote patient choice, personalised care and ensure spending on the NHS has a last impact.

Ahead of our full analysis of the government’s plans, our policy statement (PDF) sets out what we think needs to happen and why.

Speech and language therapists (SLTs) have a key role to play in meeting the challenges that the NHS faces. This ranges from supporting an ageing population to supporting people living with multiple health conditions. It also includes addressing the COVID-19 backlog as well as tackling health inequalities that people with communication and swallowing needs face.

RCSLT chief executive, Kamini Gadhok MBE, said:

“Any reform of the NHS that will enable better lives for people with communication and swallowing needs and their families is welcome. We look forward to seeing the full details of the government’s Road to Recovery plans to see if that is actually going to be the case.

“For us to arrive at the destination we all want to be at – people of all ages able to achieve their potential and live as independently as possible for as long as possible – we must remove the barriers preventing the skills, knowledge and experience of speech and language therapists being maximised. This could be achieved straight away by making changes to policies on mental health, prescribing and mental capacity. Longer-term work is needed to improve funding for services and workforce planning.

“We stand ready to work with the government, partner organisations and people with lived experience of speech and language therapy and their families and carers as we journey together along the Road to Recovery.”

Removing barriers

For SLTs to play their full role in meeting those challenges, the barriers to the harnessing of their skills, knowledge and experience must be removed.

  • Workforce – workforce planning must be improved to ensure enough SLTs are trained and retained to meet current and future demand.
  • Funding – as the government recognises, the right funding is fundamental to accessing speech and language therapy so the budget should set out how the government plans to make that a reality.
  • Mental health – SLTs should be recognised as part of the core team and be embedded in all mental health services.
  • Prescribing – SLTs should be allowed to train as independent prescribers.
  • Mental capacity – SLTs should be allowed to train to undertake mental capacity assessments.
  • The SEND Green Paper and Schools White Paper – the SEND Green Paper should set out how the Department of Health and Social Care is going to work with the Department for Education on improving support for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities, their families and the professionals who work with them. The Schools White Paper should adopt a whole-school approach to embedding speech and language in learning with additional support for children who need it.
  • Technology – it should be recognised that technology is not the solution in every situation. For people who communicate differently or with difficulty, it can pose particular challenges. Telehealth may also not suit people who do not have access to private space for confidential discussions, or those with limited connectivity.
  • Communication support – many people, including some of our most vulnerable people, may need support to communicate their choices because they communicate differently or with difficulty.

The government also needs to set out in more detail the full contents of its NHS Reform Plan. Only then will it be possible to determine if it will actually deliver more patient choice and personalised care or whether it risks people with communication and swallowing needs, their families and carers and other professionals working with them facing a range of intended consequences.