HL Deb 04 February 1974 vol 349 cc591-4

4.30 p.m.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission I should like to repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. The Statement is as follows:

"I should like to make a Statement on behalf of myself and my right honourable friends, the Secretaries of State for Education and Science, Scotland, and Wales about the Report of the Committee of Inquiry into the Speech Therapy Services which was published in October, 1972. The Government accepted in May of last year two important recommendations of the Report that the speech therapy services should be unified and that they should in future be organised under area health authorities in England and Wales and under health boards in Scotland. This new arrangement will be effective from April 1 this year.

"My right honourable friends and I have now, subject to modifications and reservations to which I shall refer later, accepted the remaining recommendations which concern us directly and we shall be commending the Report to the new health authorities on whom the burden of implementing it will mainly fall. The House will appreciate that the new health authorities, who will be given guidance on various aspects of the Report will be able to proceed only at the pace economic circumstances permit; any measures they introduce will have regard to other priorities and will have to be kept within the resources of finance and manpower available to them. In the present economic situation progress will inevitably be slow.

"We have already invited the College of Speech Therapists to discuss the integration of the speech therapy services into the new Health Service. On other points of particular importance which we shall also wish to discuss with the College, we recognise the aspirations of the profession that in the long term all training should be at degree level, but we consider that a mixed pattern of diploma and degree courses will have to continue for an indefinite period; and we need to examine in more detail the proposals for a Central Council for Speech Therapy and the provision for advice at national level.

"In conclusion, my right honourable friends and I should like to pay tribute to the work of Professor Quirk and his Committee on the preparation of their Report. It has proved to be a most thorough and constructive document and will be regarded by all as the starting point for a better organised and more effective speech therapy service."


My Lords, I must thank the noble Lord formally for repeating that Statement, and I am quite sure that the House will wish to congratulate Professor Quirk and his most distinguished Committee for a very full and thorough Report. As the Report itself says, although speech disorders are not so obvious as physical disabilities, many thousands and thousands of people suffer greatly through them, and suffer in all sorts of different ways. I am bound to say that, in view of that comment, the Statement which the noble Lord has repeated comes as something of a disappointment.

We already knew the two major things he told us: that the Government had accepted the recommendations about the speech therapy services being unified and that the area health authorities should look after them. He says in a broad sort of way, "We accept the other recommendations", but we should have liked something of substance on the other recommendations: something, for instance, about the suggestions for interdisciplinary teams about speech therapy; something about facilities for early detection, which is so important; something of the very special difficulties with immigrant children. All we have from the noble Lord's right honourable friend is that all this is being given to the area health authorities, with the proviso that their progress will be extremely slow. I am bound to say that I am disappointed with the Statement, and in general I think the Government have laid a very small egg.


My Lords, I should also like to thank the noble Lord for repeating this Statement. I rather agree with the noble Baroness in that I am rather disappointed that things are not going to proceed rather more speedily than we thought. I have not done a great deal of work with children, but certainly I have been impressed in my work with elderly people suffering from speech defects at the enormous trouble one had if there was not enough speech therapy for them to recover. It was rather sad. Although we are making one step in the right direction, I am not sure whether that will lead to any great improvement in the service. I can only hope that both the noble Baroness and I are taking what will prove to be a pessimistic view and that things may not turn out to be quite so bad as we anticipate.


My Lords, I am sorry that both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord have been disappointed by this Statement. I do not think that they need be all that disappointed. The fact of the matter is that we have accepted almost all the recommendations in the Quirk Report, and surely that is a matter for optimism rather than pessimism. My right honourable friend had to put a warning in his Statement about the difficulties of quick implementation in view of the present economic situation. Unfortunately this is a fact of life that we have to face. It would have been wrong not to have made mention of it. Certainly we intend to go ahead as swiftly as we can. We intend to have discussion with the College of Speech Therapists, and we intend to issue guidance to the health authorities on all these points.


My Lords, arising from the Statement, would not the Minister agree that the Report is based entirely on making the new health authority committees the bodies responsible for dealing with the speech therapy issue? Can he state why the educational sector has been put to one side in this regard? After all, millions of children pass through the educational field in this country, yet from the Statement given by the Minister it would appear that this has not been taken into consideration.


My Lords, if the noble Lord would care to read the Quirk Report—though I am sure that he has read it—he will see that one of its central recommendations was that the organisation of speech therapy services should be unified and should be organised under the area health authorities. But of course there will be the closest liaison with the education authorities.


My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for the courteous way he paid tribute to the producers of the Report. I notice towards the end of the Report a reference to immigrant children. The treatment of these children may not necessarily be of a pathological nature, or for pure speech therapy. But, since nothing divides people more than foreign languages or difficult intonations, may I ask the Minister not only that encouragement will be given to developing the therapy mentioned in the Report, but also that the maximum attention is given to speech therapy for immigrant children of all colours who have inherited foreign intonations and accents? This overlaps a little into training.


My Lords, clearly this is an important matter, and we believe that priority treatment groups should be a matter for local management to decide in the light of the facilities available. I hope that the area health authorities, where this is appropriate, will take note of the noble Lord's point. This is a point which no doubt could also be looked at in the general training of speech therapists.