2 August 2022
Recent media reports continue to throw a spotlight on the growing demand for healthcare services, including speech and language therapy.
Our members, people having speech and language therapy, patient organisations and charities continue to raise the alarm about how speech and language therapists will tackle ever lengthening waiting lists.
This is an issue which began long before the pandemic with people already struggling to access the vital speech and language therapy, they, and their families need.
We know there are no quick fixes to this situation, however there are five key factors preventing services from getting a grip on the situation.
Five key factors
- Exacerbation not creation: although made worse by the pandemic, these issues have not happened overnight. They have their roots in funding, the loss of senior leadership posts, and workforce planning failings over many years.
- Funding: as we highlighted in our joint policy statement with the Association of Speech and Language Therapists in Independent Practice (ASLTIP) on the SEND Review, for too long speech and language therapy services have not been funded as required to identify and respond to people’s needs.
- Workforce planning: failings in UK government workforce planning have resulted in speech and language therapy becoming a shortage profession (PDF). This is recognised:
- In the NHS Long Term Plan
- By the Department of Health and Social Care. In its submission to the Migration Advisory Committee’s Full Review of the Shortage Occupation List (PDF), the department argued that speech and language therapists should be added to the Shortage Occupation List because the profession is facing a range of pressures including increasing demand, in mental health in particular and limited education and training course output.
- In the recent report from the Health and Social Care Select Committee on workforce and in the findings of the committee’s Expert Panel.
- Removing barriers to CPD and leadership roles: beyond failing to plan for the speech and language therapy workforce, there has also been a failure to ensure that speech and language therapists are retained and have access to the continuing professional development they need to develop clinical specialisms. Speech and language therapists still face too many barriers, some of them legal ones, both to being able to better support patient care and reduce pressures on the system and to being able to apply for leadership positions.
- Children’s services face particular challenges: the issues facing children’s services have been further exacerbated by the fragmentation of funding, the lack of priority in the NHS on children and young people and a lack of system leadership.
The issues in children’s services are mirrored in adult services, with far too many people waiting longer than they should.
There are simply not enough speech and language therapists either in the public or private sector to meet current demand. Given the length of time it takes to recruit and train speech and language therapists, action is needed urgently if we are to have any hope of these issues starting to be resolved in the next five years.
The RCSLT has been raising these issues with the UK government and NHS England for a long time. We are open to working with them, our members and charities, to find workable solutions to this growing challenge.
Our response to Department for Education’s SEND review: right support, right place, right time
Report from Health and Social Care Select Committee on workforce and findings of the Expert Panel