Anger at speech therapy cuts

MARK NICHOLLS A group of consultants from Norfolk's main hospital have written to health chiefs to protest at cuts to speech and language therapy services in the county.

MARK NICHOLLS

A group of consultants from Norfolk's main hospital have written to health chiefs to protest at cuts to speech and language therapy services in the county.

The seven consultants from the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital have expressed their "deepest possible concern" that speech and language therapy (SALT) services are to be "significantly reduced or reorganised".

Norfolk Primary Care Trust axed the service for up to 130 special needs children as it struggles to make financial savings to pay-off a £50m deficit. The cuts will hit Year 7 children aged 12 and over.

The letter - addressed to the chief executive of North Norfolk PCT Diana Clarke before it was absorbed into the new Norfolk PCT on October 1 - is signed by N&N neurology consultants David Dick, Jeff Cochius, Simon Shields, Tom Staunton, Warren Woodward, Paul Worth and Martin Lee.

They emphasise the benefits of SALT in the management of chronic neurological conditions.

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They said: "We believe that the overwhelming body of opinion places at the very least an ethical obligation upon local healthcare facilities to provide better SALT services, which even at present are less than comprehensive."

The consultants accused the PCT of "continuing to commission or decommission services in uncoordinated and piecemeal manner".

"Commissioners tend to view community rehabilitation services as a soft target for cost savings," they added. "In many cases, these are the only services that can make a significant and positive difference to the lives of people with progressive neurological conditions, for which there is no cure."

The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) echoed the view that SALT was becoming a "soft target".

It said there was a worrying trend emerging among NHS trusts to cut services in an effort to save cash and highlighted the situation in Norfolk, claiming that along with the 130 children with disabilities in special schools affected, the cuts would impact on more than 300 children attending mainstream schools.

Meanwhile, Lincolnshire South West PCT has also announced the closure of a support service in Spalding for people who have difficulty communicating after suffering a stroke.

A spokesman for the college said it has been in contact with both PCTs.

Labour members at Norfolk County Council have also called for reassurance to parents of children needing speech therapy following plans to make cutbacks by the end of this month.

Harriet Panting, shadow cabinet member for children in need said: "Speech therapy is not an extra but an essential.

"That is why there is a statutory requirement to provide the service for statemented children in need."