I propose to take Questions Nos. 211 and 212 together.
The provision of health related services, including speech and language therapy, is a matter for the Eastern Regional Health Authority and the health boards in the first instance. The document referred to by the Deputy is being examined in my Department and its contents will be considered in consultation with the health boards.
In relation to speech and language therapy services, I wish to advise the Deputy that my Department commissioned a report on current and future supply and demand in the labour market for certain professional therapists from Dr. Peter Bacon and Associates. The Bacon report, which was published in July 2001, concluded that a major expansion is essential in the number of speech and language therapists requiring a very significant increase in training places to meet the long-term needs of the health service. The report therefore advocated an annual increase of 75 training places for speech and language therapy in order to achieve the fourfold increase in the number of speech and language therapists over the next decade recommended in the report.
To advance this core recommendation of the report, an inter-agency working group, comprising officials from the Department of Health and Children, the Department of Education and Science and the Higher Education Authority, was established to seek proposals from third level institutions to ensure the rapid provision of the additional therapy training places. On 29 May 2002 the former Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Woods, announced the provision of 175 extra professional therapy training places for students to tackle the acute shortage of physiotherapists, occupational therapists and speech and language therapists in the health service. This initiative almost doubles the number of therapy places available at present and it is expected that the first intake to the extra places for speech and language therapy will commence in the 2003-04 academic year.
Other key recommendations of the report include: provision of sufficient clinical placements within the health service through the establishment of a national network of clinical placement co-ordinators; need for fast-track qualification and review of the existing training system; concerted recruitment from overseas; establishment of the planned system of statutory registration consistent with the requirement for a patient-centred health service; and career structure, workload, working practices and skills-mix issues encompassed in the context of the report of the expert group on various health professions, published in April 2000.