More than 6,500 children on waiting list to see speech therapist

The average longest wait for initial contact with a speech and language therapist has increased in the last five years by 7.6 months.

More than 6,500 children are currently waiting for initial contact with a speech and language therapist in Scotland, figures obtained by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) have revealed.

As of June 2023, 6,503 children are on waiting lists to see a speech and language therapist, according to freedom of information requests carried out by the RCSLT across all of Scotland’s health boards, local authorities and health and social care partnerships covering the last five years.

The college’s head of Scotland, Glenn Carter, warned numbers are at their highest in five years and told the PA news agency there were few signs of the situation improving.

The average longest wait for initial contact with a speech and language therapist has increased in the last five years by 7.6 months.

“Communication is not a luxury; it is a fundamental human right,” Mr Carter said.

“Speech and language therapists are a precious resource for improving communication skills for the children of Scotland and we need to preserve this resource.

“Every child’s voice deserves to be heard, and it’s our responsibility to ensure they have the support they need to thrive.

“Teachers are reporting alarming numbers of children coming to school with minimal spoken language and it is the number one concern reported by health visitors.”

Glenn Carter, head of Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) Scotland and Chirnsyde Primary School pupils at the launch of VoiceBox.

RCSLT has launched a joke competition for children, called VoiceBox, in primary schools designed to spotlight the crucial role that communication plays in a child’s development.

The contest aims to spread laughter among all of those that take part and to raise awareness of the fun and importance of communication, and offers a light-hearted and inclusive way for pupils to develop their communication skills and build their confidence and self-esteem.

Mr Carter added: “As we launch VoiceBox, we celebrate the importance of communication and the incredible potential within every child. Humour has the power to connect us, underscoring the importance of speech and language in our lives.

“We hope that this initiative will bring joy and laughter to kids across Scotland regardless of their background or communication difficulties. This is a really fun campaign with a serious message.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Covid pandemic has impacted young children in a number of ways, including speech and language development.

“We want to ensure that every child has the best possible start in life and any developmental concerns are identified as early as possible. That is why we have increased our health visiting workforce by more than 500 since 2014 to support parents in their own home.

“Over the next two years we are investing in a new programme of work to support early intervention in speech and language for children and their families, helping to build confidence and capacity of staff working in early learning and childcare settings, and joining up efforts across other key public services, such as health visiting.

“We have also provided funding to recruit six dedicated speech and language leads within Education Scotland.

“Ministers look forward to seeing the roll-out of the VoiceBox initiative and will continue to engage with partners, including the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, to better understand the impacts of the pandemic on children’s speech and language development, so that we can respond appropriately.”

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