Dáil debates

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Topical Issues Debate

Speech and Language Therapy

5:05 pm

Photo of Ciara ConwayCiara Conway (Waterford, Labour) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister and the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this issue, which has been in and out of his office for a number of months now. I am delighted to have the opportunity to raise this issue regarding the lack of community-based speech and language services for adults in Waterford city. The post covers the rehabilitation in St. Patrick's Hospital for adults aged over 18 years in the community presenting with speech and language or swallowing impairment. Client groups include people with acquired neurological conditions, stroke and acquired brain injury, progressive neurological conditions, Parkinson's disease, motor neuron disease and dementia to name a few. It is a very high risk and isolated group.

The post manages patients in their rehabilitative stages of acquired conditions, for example following transfer from an acute setting in a hospital to rehabilitation, and provides support in the community when, in best case scenarios, patients are able to return home. It also provides a service to adults with a diagnosis of progressive conditions presenting with new onsets of speech delay, language and swallowing issues. A service to long-term care facilities such as nursing homes and residential facilities should also be provided should this post be filled.

This post was offered to somebody in 2011 but that person received an e-mail from the then national director of integrated services, Ms Laverne McGuinness, and the national director of human resources, Mr. Seán McGrath, that recruitment was suspended.

To date, there has been no speech and language therapy service for the adult population in the rehab community cohort of Waterford city. People are assessed and treated by speech therapists in the acute hospital, but following their discharge from hospital they are left with no service or support. As the Minister of State can imagine, this must be very isolating for this vulnerable population. The manager has recruited therapists on her team to cover urgent eating and drinking issues, but, unfortunately, this just papers over the cracks and does not highlight the need. This particular population is the most vulnerable in society. Not only are the majority of these people elderly, but they have associated communication deficits which do not allow them to speak or complain about the lack of service.

This for me is the striking issue in regard to this post. We are talking about people who have lost their ability to communicate, to speak up and to engage. We must find a solution to this problem. It is not good enough that adults who have communication difficulties because of acquired brain injury or the onset of a neurological condition are left bereft of services. The position in question has never been filled, despite having been offered two years ago. The issue is not just that the position has not been filled, but that the needs of this vulnerable group in Waterford city and the surrounding area have been left unmet. When these people are discharged from the acute section of the hospital they have no follow-up services. This must be addressed urgently as there are currently no speech and language therapy services for this adult population in Waterford city.


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