Written Answers. - Speech Therapy Service.

Liam Aylward

Ceist:

341 Mr. Aylward asked the Minister for Health and Children if his attention has been drawn to the shortage of speech therapists in the South-Eastern Health Board area; the steps he will take to rectify this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28018/01]

I am aware that, nationwide, there are shortages of speech and language therapists and, in response, my Department commissioned a report from Dr. Peter Bacon and Associates on current and future supply and demand conditions in the labour market for certain professional therapists, including speech and language therapists. The study, a comprehensive quantitative assessment of work force requirement for qualified personnel in these areas to 2015 was published on 25 July last.

The report concludes that a major expansion is essential in the numbers of therapy professionals over the next 15 years, including a fourfold increase in speech and language therapists. This will require a significant increase in training places with a recommended annual increase of 75 course places for speech and language therapy. Other key recommendations of the report include: provision of sufficient clinical placements within the health service through the establish ment 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.
I am working closely with my colleague, the Minister for Education and Science, to ensure the rapid provision of the additional places as an urgent priority. To this end, an inter-agency working group has been established comprising representatives of my Department, the Department of Education and Science and the Higher Education Authority, HEA. The Higher Education Authority has initiated a formal bidding process between third level educational institutions to respond to the training needs identified in the study. I have contacted the chief executive officer of the South-Eastern Health Board who is responsible for identifying the requirement for speech and language therapists in this area through the service planning process. The chief executive officer of the South-Eastern Health Board will be in direct contact with the Deputy to advise him of relevant service developments.