Parents concerned over future of Bucks speech and language therapy service

Bucks County Council offices
Bucks County Council offices

Confusion was caused among some parents last month after the Family Information Service posted a letter on their website warning of a discontinuation of Speech and Language Therapy (SALT) services - after the affected time frame had passed.

And the error has sparked a debate about the service in general, with many parents sharing their concerns.

Natalie and Teddy

Natalie and Teddy

Parents were informed that new referrals would not be seen for the end of the summer term in order to manage demand.

Since they had already been told about this, and indeed it had already happened, it raised the possibility in the minds of some that the new communication referred to an upcoming suspension of services.

The letter states:

“...we have had to take difficult decisions about how we make the most of available Speech and Language Therapy resources.”

Councillor Robin Stuchbury

Councillor Robin Stuchbury

It continues:

“This means that for the remainder of the summer term, some children and young people will not be seen by the service.”

Due to this out of date communication, SALT services became a hot topic of conversation on social media, with many parents expressing outrage at how poor the service has been for years.

We contacted some of these people to talk about their cases. One woman wrote:

“My daughter was referred in October 2016. She finally got an appointment in October 2017. I did all the work required with her and sent all paperwork back to SALT in March 2018. I’m still waiting for a reply and the next set of work for her. I’ve given up and am just doing things myself now.”

Unfortunately, this would be echoed time and time again.

Natalie Selby bravely spoke to us about her struggle to obtain the appropriate help for her son, Teddy.

"It was last January that my son's speech and language development got picked up on," she began.

"So you get put forward for speech and language therapy and it took eight months to get him his first session, which to me is just not good enough,” she revealed.

When asked how she felt about the support process, Natalie said:

“It was all new to me and I felt like I had no support, no one was telling me what was next. I was constantly having to ring up and chase people to find out what I needed to do."

Natalie told us that in the end she had to go private to get Teddy the regular sessions that he needs and as a consequence he is now doing well.

In their letter of apology regarding the recent miscommunication, BCC and Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust (BHT) released a joint statement. Part of that statement reads:

“We understand that parents want the very best for their children, and apologise for any distress the short term reduction in service may have caused. Our priorities are to maintain the highest possible level of service quality...”

We put this somewhat rosy sounding picture to Natalie, who said:

“It's really not, it's really not. I haven't even had a date for when our next speech therapy is. I'm actually in the dark as to when we will see somebody again.”

While explaining the reason behind the short term suspension of services for new referrals to SALT services the joint BCC and BHT statement said:

“This was a short term move, to manage an increase in demand, while the SALT service and partners worked on a sustainable plan for the future.

Concerned about the stories we had heard regarding SALT services, we contacted BCC to ask what the sustainable plan was. Sadly, they were either unwilling or unable to tell us.

District Councillor Robin Stuchbury, who had speech therapy requirements of his own as a child, provided the following comment:

"As a child I had a speech disorder for a considerable number of years which prevented my own progress within education. Only after the efforts of my mother was I independently diagnosed with dyslexia.

“One can only imagine the distress parents are going through waiting for their child to receive the help they so desperately need to progress educationally in order to fulfil their abilities as young people.

“Being unable to articulate your views with your peers is one of the most difficult things for a child, and their parents, to go through and not receiving appropriate support at the earliest possible stage can mask other unrelated conditions such as dyspraxia, attention deficit and dyslexia.

It’s a complete no-brainer to financially meet these children's needs because who knows what contribution they’ll be able to make to society once they have the ability to communicate equally as well as their peers."

Please write to sam.dean@jpimedia.co.uk and share your experiences of Speech and Language Therapy (SALT) services.