8 June 2022

The RCSLT has today (8 June 2022) welcomed the publication of the independent review of health and adult social care leadership, led by General Sir Gordon Messenger and Dame Linda Pollard.

We fed into the review and are pleased to see it has taken onboard some of our feedback. As the review states, ‘We heard from allied health professionals that the lack of visibility of leaders from their professions on boards created a sense that careers in management would be limited’.

While we will study the review with care, we firmly believe that now is the time to address that lack of visibility of allied health professionals, and speech and language therapists, in leadership positions.

We have long called for the barriers which prevent us being able to apply for leadership roles to be removed. More recently, we have called for the inclusion of allied health professionals on Integrated Care Boards (PDF) in the interests of better patient care.

Unless these barriers we face are removed, leadership will not be collaborative and inclusive. Speech and language therapists’ unique clinical experience and expertise will not be fully maximised, meaning the people we support will have worse care.

We are pleased to see the recommendations that equality, diversity and inclusion must be embedded and mainstreamed at all levels in the NHS. This is vital to supporting the changes that must take place and also in addressing health inequalities for the benefit of service users.

We want to see a culture change that actively fosters equality and diversity in career development and leadership opportunities for all speech and language therapists.

More needs to be done

Wider barriers to speech and language therapists’ career development must also be removed. For example, the legal barrier to speech and language therapists training to be independent prescribers must be addressed.

We renew our call on the government (PDF) to use the powers it has under the Medicines and Medical Devices Act (2021) to extend independent prescribing responsibilities to us.

The report recognises that ‘[workforce] data is not collated and exploited to the benefit of the individuals, teams, organisations, systems or regions as a whole’. We agree that workforce planning in England must be improved.

Good and accurate workforce data is fundamental to good workforce planning. For too long, it has not been fit for purpose (PDF). It has resulted in a shortage of speech and language therapists which both the Department of Health and Social Care and the NHS Long-Term Plan have publicly recognised.

Once in a generation opportunity to improve patient care

The government is billing the review as the ‘biggest shake-up in health and social care leadership in a generation to improve patient care’.

The government has the power to make that a reality by removing the barriers speech and language therapists face in being able to apply for and undertake leadership roles and their career development and progression. The government also has it within its power to improve workforce planning.

If it does the above, patient care will indeed be improved. If it does not, we will be missing this once in a generation opportunity to make things better.