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Speech Therapy

Volume 175: debated on Tuesday 3 July 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many patients have requested speech therapy treatment from Liverpool area health authority but remain without care.

I understand that on 20 March there were 1,300 people receiving speech therapy in Liverpool district and a further 1,775 people registered as requiring the service.

Is the Minister aware that of the nearly 2,000 people in Liverpool requiring speech therapy but currently denied it, 800 are children with special needs—partially hearing or disabled children? There are hospitals completely without speech therapy cover and there is no speech therapist to deal with the special needs of the deaf. Does the Minister agree with the view of the local area health authority chairman that the profession needs to be restructured and that improved resources and regrading are required? Does he further agree that the starting salary of £8,000 for a graduate is one reason why it is impossible to retain speech therapists within the service?

I agree that regrading would be desirable and we are committed to doing that in the autumn. I also agree with the conclusions of the Davies and Enderby study that, although pay and conditions are part of the problem, we must also look at patterns of work within the speech therapy profession to ensure that we make the best possible use of the skilled manpower available.

Does not the Minister realise that the Government are regarding the problem with great complacency? A child of four in my constituency has been told that when his fifth birthday comes he will be able to obtain the speech therapy treatment that he requires only by going to a school in Warrington or Southport. Is not that disgraceful, and is not it about time that the Government gave real priority to the management of the speech therapy service so that conditions of service are such that speech therapists are retained in the service rather than being forced into other occupations?

I challenge the hon. Gentleman to find any part of the health service in which there was an increase of 120 per cent. in real expenditure during the Labour Government's four years in power. We have increased real expenditure on speech therapists by 120 per cent. and we have increased the number of therapists in post by 80 per cent. That is not complacency.

Does my hon. Friend accept that, in places such as Liverpool, where the problem is acute, as it is in my constituency, there will always be a temptation for employers to look for people calling themselves speech therapists—which anyone can do—without guaranteeing the quality that qualification as a speech therapist ensures? Will he give the assurance that, in his tremendous efforts to solve those difficulties, he will not look for a cut in the quality of the service that is offered?

My hon. Friend is right to the extent that we must ensure that the people who offer those services are properly qualified to give them. Equally, we must not allow ourselves to regard the services as a mediaeval mystery. We must ensure that speech therapists are adequately qualified but not overqualified.