CHILDREN in the Mid West are going without appropriate speech and language therapy for more than a year because of a HSE recruitment freeze.
According to parents and health professionals, a lack of cover for therapists who are on sick leave or maternity leave is a major issue nationwide.
One parent, whose five-year-old son has not seen a speech and language therapist for more than a year, told the Limerick Post: “My son was first assessed in Newport Speech and Language Clinic in January 2013 and was seen only once in May 2013, when we were told by the therapist that she would be going on maternity leave and no-one would be replacing her due to cutbacks. He started school this September and we’re still on the waiting list.”
“I think it would have made a big difference to him if he had been seen regularly before he started school, it has affected his confidence. I don’t understand why speech therapy is not given more priority.
“Early intervention is key in children with speech and language difficulties. More money and extra resources could end up being used on him in primary school, so no-one is saving anything. The children are the losers.”
A report released by Inclusion Ireland this week revealed that there were on average 203 children in need of therapy for each speech and language therapist in the Mid West.
The report also found that a child’s access to speech and language therapy can depend on where they live, and that many families are availing of private or non-profit therapy providers while awaiting a public service.
Carol-Anne Murphy, a lecturer in Speech and Language Therapy at the University of Limerick, said that those figures refer to a subgroup and do not reflect the actual number of therapists working with children in the region, or the number of children accessing services.
However, she agrees that there is a need for additional speech and language therapists.
“We still need more therapists, that is something that is clear from all the reports that have been compiled. But it’s not just a question of putting in more therapists. What is also required is to look at what happens when children are in the system, that we don’t allow gaps or discontinuity due to therapists going on maternity leave and things like that.
“It’s not just a question of taking children off the waiting list, it’s also important to see if they are getting enough intervention over a long enough period of time to meet their needs.”
She added that there is still significant demand for places on the course despite the recruitment freeze, but that some graduates have had to emigrate to find work.