Speech and language therapy under pressure

22nd September 2021

  • For many years, the Sheffield Speech and Language Therapy Service has been struggling to keep up with increasing demand. Speech and language therapists are working extremely hard to deliver a quality service, but staff are dealing with high caseloads.

    A recent review carried out by Sheffield Clinical Commissioning Group, Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust and Sheffield City Council found that schools are not getting enough speech and language therapy input and do not have the capacity to deliver what is written in children’s Education Health and Care (EHC) plans. This affects both special schools and mainstream schools, where only children with EHC plans that specify speech and language therapy receive an ongoing service. Children on SEN Support who have speech and language needs (around 2,200 pupils) are only seen if they are new referrals into the service. Once the initial assessment has been done, advice is given but no specialist intervention is provided.

    Children whose parents have appealed to the SEND tribunal often have significantly more direct therapy specified in their EHC plan than other children.

    Capacity issues are starting to impact on younger children. The current waiting time for a speech and language assessment for pre-school children is 36 weeks.

    Pressures are also felt at the other end of the age spectrum, with post-16 students in mainstream education not getting a service at all.

    Parents told the review that there are not enough services and resources that everyone can access. They said they wanted to be more involved, and to be treated as equal partners in delivering their child’s therapy. For this to happen, parents need more communication and better access to resources.

    While the review was ongoing, additional investment was made into the service: £100,000 was allocated to support speech and language provision specified in EHC plans, an additional therapist post was secured for speech and language provision in localities, and two more therapists were recruited to work on the tribunal process. However, this is unlikely to be enough, and leaders may submit additional funding requests as the work progresses.

    Clearly, the money is badly needed, but the review also identified a need to work smarter. Getting everyone – services, families, schools – to collaborate and communicate more effectively would help all children. Early intervention is crucial, but the service must also be able to deliver essential interventions for children with long-term complex needs. There should be a clear and consistent offer across all education settings.

    Get involved!

    Please tell us about your experiences of speech and language therapy. Email, call our office on 0300 321472, and take part in relevant meetings and focus groups – join us as a member or follow us on Facebook to be kept up to date. You might also be interested in joining one of several speech and language therapy working groups that are being set up by Sheffield Clinical Commissioning Group as a parent carer representative. More information about volunteering with us

    Concerned about a lack of speech and language provision for your child?

    Contact SSENDIAS for advice.

    Visit the IPSEA website for information. If your child has an EHC plan, read this article.

    You may also want to raise the issue of speech and language therapy funding with your MP – follow this link to find their details.