Written Answers. - Speech Therapy Service.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

612 Mr. O'Shea asked the Minister for Health and Children the plans, if any, he has to recruit additional speech and therapy staff in the Waterford area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20205/00]

The provision of health related support services, including speech and language therapy, to persons with physical and sensory disabilities is the responsibility of the relevant health board. The development of such services is a matter for the health board in consultation with the regional co-ordinating committee for physical and sensory disability services. Accordingly, the Deputy's question has been forwarded to the chief execu tive officer of the South Eastern Health Board with a request that he examine the matter and respond directly to the Deputy, as a matter of urgency.

I should point out that the recruitment of allied health professional staff generally is presenting problems throughout the health board regions and it is clear that the demand for the three therapy grades, occupational therapy, physiotherapy and speech and language therapy needs to be reviewed. Following a Labour Court recommendation in 1997, an expert group was established to examine and report on various issues relating to the allied health professional grades, including speech and language therapists. One of the issues examined by this group is the problems which arise in relation to the recruitment and the retention of various grades. The expert group submitted its final report in April 2000 and I am implementing in full the recommendations of this report at a cost of £10 million. Among its recommendations was the urgent commissioning of a workforce planning study for the three therapy grades, that is, occupational therapy, physiotherapy and speech and language therapy. The terms of reference for the workforce planning study for the three therapy professions have been agreed and the study commissioned. This study will report by the end of this year. In the context of this report, a large expansion in the area of training for these therapists, in both the numbers of graduates produced and the number of training colleges established will be examined in partnership with the education authorities.

I am also very pleased to announce that, in co-operation with my colleague the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Michael Woods, I have secured a total of 52 extra places for the training of physiotherapists, five additional places for the training of occupational therapists and three in the area of speech and language therapy, all available from October 2000.

The Higher Education Authority is also establishing a group comprised of representatives from each of the three physiotherapy schools to investigate the establishment of a fast-track physiotherapy programme to begin in each school from October 2001. The first graduates from these programmes should be available in 2003.

The possibility of establishing a similar course for occupational therapy and speech and language therapy will also be investigated.