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Lack of funding impacting on speech and language waiting times in Foyle – McGimpsey

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

A lack of adequate funding to meet increases in demand on staff has led to a lengthening in waiting times for speech and language therapy in the Western Trust area.

Health Minister, Michael McGimpsey said that waiting times for these services had risen in recent weeks because there were insufficient resources to meet the rising demand.

Speaking during an Assembly debate on speech and language therapy provision in the Foyle constituency area, the Minister said: “My Department has provided considerable extra investment in this area over the past number of years, including over £1million for the provision of speech and language therapists and assistants and a further £4million to establish multi-disciplinary teams, which include speech and language therapists.

“This extra investment has helped to ensure that my target to reduce Allied Health Professional waiting times to nine weeks by March 2010 was met by all Trusts.”

Continuing the Minister said that in the Western Trust area, which covers Foyle, waiting times targets had been very good, however, over the last number of weeks the situation has deteriorated and some people were waiting longer.

He said: “Regionally Trusts are continuing to meet the waiting time target of nine weeks. However, I acknowledge that some people in the Western Trust are now waiting longer than this.

“The Western Trust fully understands the importance and significance of the need to provide an accessible, timely and first rate service for all its clients with speech and language needs.

“However, the Trust has had to prioritise referrals to ensure that the risks associated with what are potentially life threatening implications associated with dysphagia, which relates to feeding and swallowing difficulties, are mitigated.

“I must stress that the Western Trust is fully aware of the potential adverse knock-on effect on those clients who do not have dysphagia but present with speech, language and communication difficulties. The fact is that demand for these services in this area has increased but the resource to meet the necessary increase in staffing levels is just not there.”

Concluding the Minister said that the Trust would be raising the issue of resources of future speech and language therapy service development investment with its Local Commissioning Group, and the Health and Social Care Board.

He said: “I do not have to remind anyone in this House of the very severe financial difficulties facing the health and social care service. Waiting lists for a range of different services continue to rise, as demand increases and funding reduces.

“My Department has made considerable efforts to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of speech and language therapy provision across Northern Ireland, as demonstrated by the huge improvements in waiting times. For example, last month I launched a Speech, Language and Communication Therapy Action Plan for children and young people for public consultation, which will drive further improvements, and I expect the final document to be published early next year.

“The improvements wrought so far are now under threat – in fact the entire Health and Social Care service is under great stress because of a lack of funding. There is no substitute for properly funded health services – services which save and can transform lives for the better.”

Notes to editors:

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