HL Deb 28 July 1988 vol 500 cc385-7

3.26 p.m.

Lord Hooson asked Her Majesty's Government:

What are the respective duties of (a) education authorities in England and Wales and (b) health authorities to provide funds for speech therapy services.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Skelmersdale)

My Lords, speech therapy is one of the services which it is the duty of health authorities to provide under the National Health Services Act 1977. As a result of your Lordships' consideration of the Education Reform Bill, local education authorities in England and Wales will have a power to provide funds for speech therapy services.

Lord Hooson

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there are many children in this country who need adequate speech therapy services but who do not receive them? Is this not partly due to the fact that it is nobody's particular responsibility? There is a dichotomy here between the duty of the health authority and the duty of the education authority. Is it not time that this matter was cleared up properly?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I fear that I must correct the noble Lord. As I said in my original Answer, there is a duty on the regional health authorities but merely a power under the Education Reform Bill for local education authorities to involve themselves in this area.

I also point out to the noble Lord that the number of vacancies in the National Health Service is broadly matched by the number of newly trained therapists seeking employment. The situation is improving, although we are not complacent in this matter. Since 1979 the number of speech therapists employed in the National Health Service has increased by 66 per cent.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that speech therapists can enable people to communicate who have lost or have never had that ability and that speech therapists can save public money when they make individuals independent and employable?

Lord Skelmersdale

Yes, my Lords. There are other professions supplementary to medicine which also have this effect. But I agree with my noble friend.

Lord Carter

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Enderby Report showed that there should be 23 speech therapists per 100,000 population? That means that there should be 12,000 speech therapists in post. In fact there are only 3,000. Can the Minister say what plans the Government have for dealing with this shortfall of 9,000 speech therapists? Does he agree that a large part of the problem is due to the pitifully low salaries which speech therapists are paid?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, yes, of course I am aware of the figures that the noble Lord has mentioned to the House in his supplementary question. However, I repeat that, while the Government are not complacent, the regional health authorities, through their activities with the districts, have in recent years considerably increased the number of speech therapists within the resources available to them. I am sure that they will continue to do this.

Lord Auckland

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that one of the most distressing speech defects in children is stammering? I declare having had and still having an interest in the matter. Can my noble friend the Minister say what funds or other assistance are being diverted to that form of defect?

Lord Skelmersdale

No, my Lords. I very much regret that I am unable to satisfy my noble friend in this respect. However, I understand that as part of the training of speech therapists training in correction of stammering is also given.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

My Lords, will the Minister say when Section 7(2), the newly amended section, of the Education Act 1981 will come into force?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I understand that it will be shortly after Royal Assent. The normal procedure would be for it to be two months after Royal Assent. But I certainly anticipate that it will come into force by the end of the year.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, I was glad to hear the Minister say that he had had his attention drawn to the study, which showed that we had only roughly a quarter of the number of speech therapists who were needed in the country. I am talking about the report referred to by my noble friend. Does he accept the conclusions of that authoritative study? Bearing in mind that 80 per cent. of local authorities are at present quite unable to meet the educational needs of speech therapists and that the provision of speech therapists in Britain is roughly half of that which is accepted by most EC countries, will the Government take determined action to increase the number available? Many of them are leaving the profession and taking up other work because of the salaries offered for speech therapy.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I am not sure that I agree with the noble Lord's conclusions. The starting salary of a speech therapist is fractionally more than that of a teacher, an occupational therapist or indeed a physiotherapist. There are no accurate estimates available of the number of speech and language impaired people in the population. That is why we are currently sponsoring a research study in Oxford which should provide improved information. Of course not all those with communication problems necessarily need speech therapy. But I stress what I have said several times, which is that the Government are not complacent and are following all these matters up.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, may I ask the Minister—

Lord Denham

My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me for saying that Questions have lasted for 30 minutes. I hope that he will put his question and then allow me to make the business statement, if that is agreeable to the House.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord. The Minister seemed to think that salaries were satisfactory. We must bear in mind that in most cases trained speech therapists have received four years' training as compared with the two years' training for an occupational therapist. Therefore, does he really feel that £8,000 a year will encourage speech therapists to remain in this very demanding profession?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I think that the noble Lord has again misinterpreted me. I said that the starting salaries of the four fairly comparable groups were much the same. I am sure that the House will agree with me that they are comparable groups. I do not see that as a reason for not attracting speech therapists into the profession.

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