Firstly, let’s think about the unmet need in terms of children and young people.
Those who do meet the criteria can find themselves waiting months and months for an appointment after which many will be discharged with advice. But what about those who don’t meet the criteria?
Criteria might be around age (school-aged children will be seen but not pre-school or secondary-aged pupils, for example). Others are around the degree of difficulty a child or young person might be experiencing – a child who is ‘only slightly’ behind may not qualify – but what happens when the gap widens and the input required to catch that child up is so much greater? What appears to be a relatively insignificant speech production problem, for example, can be hugely compromising for a young person.
There are particular issues with young people who are in secondary, and in some cases in tertiary, education. They have fallen through the gaps during primary education and, as the demands of the curriculum increase, they are finding it increasingly difficult to cope. The outlook here can be bleak indeed – not only in terms of educational achievements but also in terms of social and emotional well-being.
Independent speech and language therapists, whether sole practitioners or part of a larger company are contacted on a regular basis by parents and carers desperate to find help for a child or other family member.
At Soundswell we always take the calls – knowing, however, that there is nothing we can do other than listen and signpost the caller to other possible sources of help, including reminding people that they should continue to approach their local NHS service to ask when (or if) they will receive an appointment.
A year or so ago we would circulate details to our team and ask if anyone was able to help. We have now stopped doing this as our team is almost always at capacity and the pressure to squeeze in ‘just one more’ needy case is not what we want to encourage.
Although we felt that the nature of our business is clear from our website (we work with children in schools and settings), we have now taken the step of explicitly stating that we are unable to take on individual children – and sign-posting families to alternative options.
There are similar difficulties for adults.
In a related article Shahzeb one of team (who also works with adults in the NHS) shares her experiences of the gaps in speech and language therapy provision- click here to read this item