15 June 2022

Today (15 June) the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) has said that support for people with communication and swallowing needs must be at the heart of the UK government’s vision for the year ahead.

The RCSLT made its comments following the Health and Social Care Secretary’s speech at the NHS Confed Expo.

In his speech, Sajid Javid looked to the year ahead, including highlighting:

  • The digital health and care plan;
  • The health disparities white paper;
  • The NHS workforce strategy;
  • Plans to ensure the right leadership is in place at all levels of health and social care following landmark review; and
  • His call for stronger partnerships between different health and social care services to help tackle the COVID-19 backlog.

A number of things need to happen to ensure that:

  • People with communication and swallowing needs and their families benefit from these proposals; and
  • Speech and language therapists’ experience and expertise is maximised so they can contribute to the delivery of the UK government’s vision.

Digital health and care plan

It should be recognised that digital health and care 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. Some NHS services may also not be set up to deliver telehealth. Some people may be excluded because of their personal circumstances, for example, not having access to the internet or not knowing how to use it.

So it is important that any digital health and care plan reduces the risk of digital exclusion due to:

  • People’s individual circumstances, such as poverty and a lack of digital access or a lack of digital literacy;
  • A particular condition someone has meaning digital health and care is difficult, if not impossible, to access; or
  • NHS services not being able to actually deliver digital health and care.

Health disparities white paper

People with communication and swallowing needs are more at risk of experiencing health inequalities.

It is important, therefore, that they receive the speech and language therapy support they need if health disparities are to be addressed.

NHS workforce strategy

Workforce planning in England is not fit for purpose. We repeat our call for this to be improved.

A workforce strategy for the NHS – and the subsequence workforce planning to deliver it – will not be successful unless it takes account of health and care professionals, including speech and language therapists:

  • Employed by non-health employers. This includes those working in independent practice. It also includes those employed by schools; and
  • Employed by the NHS but working in non-health settings. This includes those working in schools and criminal justice settings.

Health and social care leadership

The Secretary of State spoke about breaking down the walls between us. We agree.

We call on him to break down the walls preventing speech and language therapists being able to put their experience and expertise to best use and to being able to deliver more effective patient care.

First, the walls facing allied health professionals, including speech and language therapists, in applying for health and social care leadership roles must be broken down.

Second, the legal walls preventing speech and language therapists’ career development and progression must also be broken down.

We repeat our call for speech and language therapists to be granted prescribing responsibilities (PDF).

COVID-19 backlog

To successfully address the issues facing speech and language therapy services as they attempt to tackle the COVID-19 backlog, the UK government must resolve the issues we identified in our submission to the Health and Social Care Select Committee’s inquiry on clearing the backlog caused by the pandemic (PDF).

National and local recovery policies must identify and provide appropriate response to an individual’s needs and specifically:

  • Support for children and young people’s communication and language development (catch-up and unmet needs) should be central to education recovery plans;
  • Support for adults’ communication and swallowing should be integral to the restart of rehabilitation services, whether related to COVID-19 or for other conditions; and
  • Speech and language therapy should be recognised as an integral part of the recovery plan for mental health services.

Speech and language therapy services must be appropriately resourced to ensure that:

  • The increase in demand, among people of all ages, for speech and language therapy as a result of the pandemic (including those with long COVID) can be addressed;
  • Those who have developed a higher level of need due to delays in identification and reduced support during the pandemic, can be supported; and
  • Speech and language therapists are able to play their vital role in protecting and promoting the general mental health and wellbeing of people with communication and swallowing needs.

Other policies

The Secretary of State also highlighted other policies.

On the 10-year plans on cancer, dementia, and mental health and on the update of the NHS long-term plan, the role of speech and language therapists must be recognised and maximised. In the interests of the people they support, the health and care system, and society more generally.

Health inequalities case studies

These case studies showcase good practice in meeting the needs of under-served groups

RCSLT welcomes review of health and social care leadership

RCSLT has welcomed publication of independent review of health and adult social care leadership