To ask the Secretary of State for Health what target he has set for the level of provision for speech therapists per 100,000 population.
We have not set any national targets. It is for individual health authorities to assess the numbers of speech therapists they require.
Is my hon. Friend aware that there is a national shortage of speech therapists, and that in the North East Thames region the shortfall is estimated at 35 per cent? The figure for my district is similar. Will my hon. Friend give his full commitment to increasing the supply of qualified speech therapists and to reducing the number of children who sometimes have to wait more than one year for an initial assessment?
We recognise the need to increase the number of speech therapists in the future. Perhaps the best earnest of our intention to do that is the 80 per cent. increase in the number of speech therapists in post since 1979. An important way of improving the flow of people into the profession is to ensure that pay and conditions are made properly flexible. That issue will be addressed as part of the review promised for this autumn.
What does the Minister mean by his remark that pay and conditions should be made properly flexible?
It means ensuring that the pay and conditions offered secure an adequate flow of people into the profession.
Will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of speech therapists, who do an exceptionally good job, often in difficult circumstances, for people who desperately need help?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Speech therapy offers an important release for people who would be unable to get as much out of life as they can with the help of a properly qualified speech therapist. As my hon. Friend will know, the Education Act 1981 was instrumental in identifying the major opportunities for improvement in individual circumstances that is offered by speech therapists.
Is the Minister aware just how seriously the current shortage of speech therapists is being felt by disabled children and their parents? In particular, is he aware that there are schools for such children, many with severe speech impairments, that now have no speech therapy at all and that this will involve lifelong consequences for the children affected? What action will he take to help them?
I have already said that I recognise the need for further improvement in the number of speech therapists. I should have hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would welcome the increase of 80 per cent. in the total number of speech therapists in post since he left office as Minister for the Disabled.