26 January 2022
In October 2021, we conducted a survey of RCSLT members to gather their insights in to the long-standing, sustained impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the demands placed upon their speech and language therapy services. We also asked specifically to hear from SLTs receiving referrals for individuals with post-COVID syndrome (long COVID) to update our understanding on the needs and provision of support for these individuals.
Our two new reports, published today, examine the results.
Sustained impact of COVID-19
The first report – The Sustained Impact of COVID-19 on Speech and Language Therapy Services in the UK – furthers our understanding from our earlier surveys and reports, on what the longer-term impact of the pandemic and system closure has had on speech and language therapy.
- Pressures and demands on services are still exceedingly high, compared with before the start of the pandemic, with some SLTs services reporting that the demand placed upon them is double what it was in ‘before-times’.
- Eighteen months on from the start of the outbreak and the closure of services, SLTs are still facing varied challenges often meaning that service users are facing longer waiting times.
- Associated with the increase in demand, and pressure on services, SLTs’ personal wellbeing is also being affected
- The increase in demand is largely due to addressing the backlog from service closure in the acute stages of the pandemic, combined with later consequences of the redeployment of SLTs and the impact on the independent sector, now facing a heighted degree of referrals
The second report – Understanding the need for and provision of speech and language therapy services for individuals with post-COVID syndrome in the UK – provides an updated view on the volume of people requiring speech and language therapy associated with their post-COVID syndrome (or Long COVID), as well as the nature of their needs, and the organisational arrangements in which they receive therapy.
- The majority of SLT services seeing individuals with communication or swallowing needs as part of post-COVID syndrome have not received any additional or dedicated funding for the management of this clinical cohort. Thus, SLTs are trying to ‘absorb’ them into their everyday services and caseloads.
- Many of these SLTs are concerned that they cannot meet these individuals’ needs in the timeframe expected of their service. This also resonates with the overall picture of UK services, as referred to above.
- The main speech and language therapy related symptoms seen in individuals with post-COVID syndrome are dysphagia and dysphonia. This is similar to what was reported in our survey last year.
- The majority of the individuals that are presenting to speech and language therapy services with post-COVID syndrome are of working age. Most SLTs reported that they felt their communication or swallowing needs were impacted the individuals’ mental wellbeing and ability to carry out every day activities.
- SLTs have experienced numerous barriers and challenges to providing meaningful and quality rehabilitation to those with post-COVID syndrome, including navigating the complex and inconsistent care pathways that currently existing for this population
- However, SLTs identified that enablers of their care were the SLTs’ unique clinical knowledge and commitment to person-centred care.
Recommendations for action
In both reports, we set out clear recommendations, calling for action from multiple stakeholders to ensure all who need speech and language therapy input can access timely, high quality care, and that our profession is well resourced and supported.
The profession continues to battle against the long-term consequences of the pandemic. Further COVID variants have had (and may continue to have) an unprecedented effect, the number of individuals presenting with more complex or deteriorated needs continues to grow, and the proportion of the population now experiencing post-COVID syndrome (or long COVID) is enormous. The effects of these will continue to be felt by the profession, and action must now be taken to deliver the recommendations made in these reports, so that all people requiring speech and language therapy can access high quality therapy, when and where they need it, to have their needs met – and that our profession is sustainably resourced and looked after for long term gain.
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