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Hundreds of Suffolk children left to struggle alone with speech and language difficulties, report warns

There are fears hundreds of children in Suffolk with speech and language difficulties are not getting the support they need Picture: DOMINIC LIPINSKI/PA

There are fears hundreds of children in Suffolk with speech and language difficulties are not getting the support they need Picture: DOMINIC LIPINSKI/PA

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A £1million fund looks set to be introduced amid concerns hundreds of Suffolk children are being left to struggle with speech and language difficulties, potentially leaving them with life-long problems.

Richard Watson, deputy chief officer for NHS Ipswich and East Suffolk and NHS West Suffolk clinical commissioning groups. Picture: PAGEPIXRichard Watson, deputy chief officer for NHS Ipswich and East Suffolk and NHS West Suffolk clinical commissioning groups. Picture: PAGEPIX

leaving them with life-long problems.

Suffolk NHS leaders fear the lack of support services for more than 1,000 young people with communication difficulties could not only be endangering their future prospects, but their long-term mental health.

They believe even low-level difficulties in childhood could, if not addressed, be causing a generation of people greater problems with schooling, behaviour, forming relationships and building a career.

Their response is to pump £1m of money from the West Suffolk, and Ipswich and East Suffolk, clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) to pay for more speech and language therapists for those with the most severe difficulties.

Suffolk speech and language therapist Susie Hayden. Picture: COURTESY OF SUSIE HAYDENSuffolk speech and language therapist Susie Hayden. Picture: COURTESY OF SUSIE HAYDEN

But the money will also be used train teachers to spot delayed language development early and how best to alleviate it, so problems can be prevented later down the line.

Richard Watson, deputy chief officer for the CCGs, said: “It is fair to say the current state of affairs is not as strong as it needs to be.”

The CCGs have worked with groups like the Suffolk Parent Carer Network to assess the current level of provision and the impact it has on people’s lives, as well as what needs to change.

“What’s come out is that there is a significant unmet need,” Mr Watson said.

“We’ve got different bits of the service that are not joined up. We need a much more integrated model.”

He also warned that “demand is massively outstripping current capacity” of speech and language therapies, adding: “We know that’s only going to continue.

“We’ve got good staff trying to do their best but they can’t currently meet the demand in our community.

“It is massively important for children. If we don’t intervene early, there is an impact on their educational outcomes, their behaviour and in terms of their future mental health. It has significant consequences for them in the future.

“We feel this is such an important area that we need to find the money.”

There are currently estimated to be 14,000 children with speech and language difficulties in Suffolk, which is about 10% of the youth population.

A report published before next week’s West Suffolk CCG governing body meeting says 1,116 of those young people are not getting the support they need.

If approved, Mr Watson said the £1.09m funding “would be released straight away into children’s community services to enable them to get recruiting for more therapists to work with schools and families”.

However he said: “We need to start much earlier and we will have a whole range of initiatives to support schools to help identify and support children with lower level speech and language difficulties.”

Mr Watson hopes the new speech and language therapists will be in place within 18 months so that “we’ve got much more of a handle on demand”.

He added: “Longer term, I hope there is much more of a focus on schools and earlier intervention, so we don’t need that intensive support.

“It’s about working with them earlier so they’re not getting to the situation where they need longer term support.”

Suffolk speech and language therapist Susie Hayden, who works mainly with people who have brain injuries, said that currently: “There’s a lack of services across the board in speech and communication.

“Part of my feeling is that there’s investment in hospitals, as there should be, but when you get into the community there’s very little available.

“It’s not seen as glamorous and doesn’t attract professionals necessarily.

“If people are left, then they often get additional mental health issues on top of that - whereas if you catch people and give them hope and encouragement, they do a little better.

“People who have hope have more chance of improving than those who don’t. If there’s nothing, they won’t have that hope and they will have additional mental health problems.

“My experience of working in the community is that there’s so much more that can be done and needs to be done.

“We should be investing more in the longer term.”

A business case published ahead of the West Suffolk CCG governing body said: “The ability to develop effective language and communication skills is fundamental to the development of all children and young people, these skills impact on a child or young person’s ability to reach their full potential in education and ultimately the contribution they can make throughout their childhood and later in adulthood.

“Language and communication skills have a profound effect on the ability to develop social and emotional connections with others which are important factors in emotional and physical health throughout life.

“Experience and evidence nationally show early identification and intervention is key.

“The longer children and young people wait for support, the greater the impact and the risk of delayed development is, resulting in lasting impact.”

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