One of the UK’s leading speech therapy experts has urged Nottinghamshire County Council not to ‘forget the children’ who receive crucial speech and language therapy services when it makes ‘significant’ cuts this year.
Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists urges county council to reconsider ‘significant’ cuts
The council has decided to cut the amount it spends on speech and language therapy (SALT) to £500,000 – a dramatic reduction from the current estimate of £1.3 million.
Yet the county council itself has acknowledged that the scheme it is cutting is successful.
Notts does better than the national average for young people’s communication skills, which the council said was because of the scheme which is now under threat.
Private speech therapy can cost up to £70 an hour in Notts, and officials say communication problems are far more likely to be present in deprived areas.
It is not known exactly how much is currently being spent on SALT in Notts, however, it is understood to be around £1.3 million a year.
The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) believes ‘in excess of a million is being spent’, and the county council has also said ‘more than a million’ is being spent.
Now, the CEO of RCSLT has written to the county council and urged officials ‘not to forget about’ the children who need support.
The services are currently provided by children’s centres.
The proposed changes were approved by the Conservative-controlled county council last week, in an effort to save £1million from the overall children’s centres contracts.
The cuts will come into effect from June 2020, but the council is under considerable pressure to reverse the proposed service reductions.
The council’s current SALT programme is highly thought of, and critically acclaimed.
The county council acknowledges the success of the scheme.
Its own Joint Strategic Needs Assessment states that: “Nationally in 2018, 72.4 per cent of children achieved at least the expected level of development across all the early learning goals (for communication and learning)
“In Nottinghamshire, 82.6 per cent of all children achieved their expected levels or above in learning goals which comprise communication and language in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) in 2018, which we suspect evidences the impact of the local speech-language and communication needs interventions provided by the Children’s Centre Service.”
Kamini Gadhok is the CEO of the RCSLT, and is herself a speech therapist, having previously worked in Nottingham.
Speaking to the Local Democracy Service, she said: “You can’t learn to read and write if you can’t learn basic communication skills.
“What we’re concerned about is, whatever the budget issues are, how do the local leaders come together?
“There is going to be a funding gap, and it seems like it’s going to be quite a significant one.
“We know they’re moving to joint commissioning (in April 2021) but what we’re concerned about is children falling through the gaps.
“Children in areas of deprivation, 50 per cent of them have communication issues, whereas if you take the social issues out of the equation it should be 10 per cent of children.
“So there’s 40 per cent of kids who have got difficulties which are due to the environment they are in.”
She went on to say the cuts would disproportionately affect these people.
“The main thing is that the leaders across health and the council come together to see what they can do by working in partnership to understand both the risks for those children and young people, so not losing sight of the children who are going to be affected, because they’re thinking about the money.
“The risk is that the focus is on the money, and not the children.”
Labour councillors are also putting pressure on the council to reverse its decision.
Councillor Liz Plant is the Labour spokeswoman for children and young people and represents West Bridgford North.
She said: “We welcome this important and timely communication from the RCSLT, highlighting their concerns to the speech, language and communication needs service which were recently approved by the current Conservative administration.
“These changes to the proposed service make no sense and are purely driven by savings.
“Not only do the changes run counter to current government policy in terms of clearly articulated communication and language goals, but as the RCSLT points out, the group who are likely to be hardest hit are those children from low-income families who may also be more likely to have speech and communication challenges in the early years.
“So once again, an uncaring and ill-informed decision taken by this Conservative administration which targets the most vulnerable – young children and families across our Nottinghamshire communities who need a little extra help in their early lives.
“We support the RCSLT in calling on the Conservative administration to reverse this callous decision, and urge them to heed the advice of the leading professional body in this field of child development.”
Councillor Philip Owen is the chairman of the committee which took the decision and represents Nuthall and Kimberley for the Conservatives.
He said: “The children’s centre service is due to transfer to the direct management of Nottinghamshire County Council on June 1, 2020.
“Staff working in the children’s centre service who provide speech and language interventions will not be transferred to the county council.
“Instead, the county council is currently negotiating with Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust to create a short-term contract worth £500,000 for the trust to provide some work to address speech, language and communication needs from June 2020 until March 2021.
“To date, the NHS Trust has not made a final decision about this contract.
“The council needs time to work closely with NHS commissioners to progress the creation of one speech and language service from the 1 April 2021 which is why a short-term contract has been offered.
“This will allow time for public consultation and scoping out what is required.
“Should Nottinghamshire Healthcare Trust not agree with the short-term contract, the county council will commission speech and language interventions, including training, as necessary.
A spokeswoman for Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust said: “The trust has successfully delivered this service since June 2013.
“The speech, language and communication elements we deliver have been recognised nationally as leading the way in this type of work by Public Health England and the Communication Trust.
“The proposed amount to be awarded does represent a significant reduction in funding, and potentially services, in speech, language and communication support for very young children and their parents.
“We are working closely with the County Council to agree to the work that will continue June 2020 onwards.”