Early intervention with speech and language therapy for children crucial for development, says Donnelly, responding to report

Alliance Health spokesperson Danny Donnelly MLA has said more must be done to support early interventions in respect of speech and language therapy (SLT) for children.

Health Danny Donnelly

He was responding to a new report from the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) which found that there has been an 85% increase in children waiting for SLT appointments in Northern Ireland, from 2,444 children in 2021 to 4,527 in 2023.
It also found there to be a general rise in complex speech and language needs for children coming into pre-school and primary school.
The East Antrim MLA, who is also Vice Chair of the Health Committee, has said: “It is simply not acceptable that there are more children in Northern Ireland waiting for speech and language therapy, relative to the size of our population, than anywhere else in the UK.
“This report highlights the long and frustrating waiting times facing many young people and their families. We know how important communication is to young people, and early intervention at a young age is key to ensuring children’s development at such a crucial stage of their lives.
“Speaking on this issue before in the Assembly earlier in the year, I called for a collaborative approach between the Minister of Health and the Minister of Education, to ensure SLT forms a vital part of child-centred care, particularly with the ongoing development of a Childcare Strategy.
“I have also asked the Minister of Health about increasing the number of speech and language university places, in line with the recommendations of both the RCSLT and the Speech and Language Therapy Workforce Review 2019 – 2029.
“While it is understandable that Minister Swann and his Department are facing extremely challenging budgetary pressures this year, it is essential that we train more speech and language therapists with the relevant academic qualifications to deliver this vital service. Alongside this, we should also be looking into alternative routes to enter the SLT profession to meet the current demand.
“I will continue to engage with the Department of Health on this urgent issue, both in the Assembly and on the Health Committee.”