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With demand increasing, Britain's 14,000 speech and language therapists are too thin on the ground

A national shortage of speech and language therapists is putting considerable pressure on services. The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCLPT) estimates that there are 2.5 million people in the UK who need the help of their members. But with only 14,000 qualified speech and language therapists currently practising in England, and demand increasing, there are inevitable delays in accessing therapy for many clients, particularly children.

This is not a new problem. A 2002 review by the Scottish Executive called for initiatives to tackle the shortage of trained speech and language therapists, and a 2007-8 survey by the National Deaf Children's Society (NDCS) found that 12% of parents surveyed felt that their child was not receiving any support because of a lack of speech and language therapy services. It's also a problem that's not confined to the UK. Several other countries, including New Zealand, have experienced an acute shortage of qualified practitioners for some years. In the USA, some states have resorted to virtual therapy sessions via Skype as a solution for those with mild to moderate speech and language issues.

So, what are the root causes of the shortage? Recruitment and retention of qualified speech and language therapists is clearly an issue. But it's also a matter of increased demand. People are living longer, many with issues which affect speech, such as dementia or stroke. Conditions such as autism and learning difficulties are more widely recognised and treated, while improvements in neo-natal care have improved survival rates in children with developmental problems, such as cerebral palsy.

Independent agencies, such as Speak Easy London, are filling gaps in speech and language therapy provision, but only for those who can afford their services. The simple answer is to recruit more therapists to work in the NHS. However, as with any highly skilled vocation, that's easier said than done.

Thinking of a career in speech and language therapy? Take a look at the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists' undergraduate guide

If you are looking for a new speech and language therapist job, register with Sanctuary and view our latest vacancies
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Maira Imran, 22 August 2015, 09:38 PM
Hi there,

Enjoyed reading your blog, it was very useful! Just a quick question, do you think there will be more opportunities in the NHS with the demand? Will Speech and language therapy become as competitive as nursing?

I hope my question made sense. Hope to hear from you soon!

Kind regards,

Maira Imran
Lee Emmett , 24 August 2015, 04:11 PM
Hi Maira,
Glad to hear you found my blog useful. It’s a good question and I’m hopeful we will see more opportunities, particularly with the government’s support of the NHS’ five year plan. This includes giving more power to local areas in the planning of health and social care services specific to their need, of which SLTs should see more opportunities to get involved in. The health reforms will hopefully be a big step forward for allied health professions. That being said, it is difficult for those entering the speech and language therapy profession – degrees are less accessible than the likes of nursing and it’s difficult for students to find placements. But as with all professions, there are specialist areas that are receiving greater demand and therefore jobs opportunities. For speech and language therapists this tends to fall within adults and older people services. If a SLT has Dysphagia experience, then they will have numerous job offers. We are also seeing an increase in demand within services for adults who have learning disabilities.
Hope this helps.
Kind regards,
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