26 May 2023
The RCSLT fears cuts will have far reaching consequences to the delivery of services in future
The Department of Health has cut back on speech and language therapy student places at Ulster University in Northern Ireland, bringing the number of places back down to just 28 for 2023/24.
The cuts have been made across six AHP professions, with speech and language therapy losing five places compared to last year (around a 15% cut overall). The reduction in training places will have a significant impact on the workforce and the people who need support with their communication, eating, drinking and swallowing needs.
Ruth Sedgewick, Head of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists in Northern Ireland said:
“The confirmation that speech and language student places at Ulster University have been cut by five is yet another harmful blow to the profession and impacts significantly on people with communication, eating, drinking and swallowing needs across Northern Ireland.
“Our members have been telling us for years that demand for speech and language services continues to soar and this has been further exacerbated by the pandemic. Nobody should be waiting for essential communication eating, drinking or swallowing support. They should not be the collateral damage of political instability and short-term financial and workforce planning.
“We urgently need alternative routes into the profession such as the introduction of apprenticeships and masters’ programmes which are already being offered in other parts of the UK. Northern Ireland remains the backwater with only one avenue into our field which is subject to chronic underfunding and support.”
This unwelcome news comes at a time when vacancy rates across the profession have become worryingly high. Our survey earlier this year, found that vacancy rates across the UK have now reached an average of 23%.
Steve Jamieson, Chief Executive Officer of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists said:
“Across the UK, workforce planning is not fit for purpose and requires addressing immediately to ensure the needs of people with communication, eating, drinking or swallowing difficulties can access the help they need now and in the future. More sustainable pathways into the speech and language therapy profession in Northern Ireland need to be created and supported by the Department of Health. I urge the Permanent Secretary to reverse these devastating training cuts now.”
The impact of this decision will be far reaching. A failure to invest in the speech and language therapy workforce now, will create problems and a lack of services for future generations.