Children in Somerset waiting for months for vital speech therapy treatment

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A mother from Taunton has developed an app to help parents struggling to get speech therapy appointments for their children, as wait times in Somerset soar.

Children across the county who are struggling with their speech are waiting months for treatment in the county.

A freedom of information request by ITV News found some families are having to wait over seven months to see a language therapist face-to-face.

The NHS in the county says an increased number of referrals since the Covid-19 pandemic and staff shortages are to blame.

Referrals are on the rise, with 2,193 children referred for speech and language therapy in 2021 - the highest on record.

Average waiting times came out at 18 weeks for 2021 but figures for different districts in Somerset in November 2022 showed much longer waits for some.

In Mendip, the waiting time was 31 weeks, which is over seven months. The shortest wait was 18 weeks in Taunton.

Some children in Somerset have faced waits of up to seven months for face-to-face speech therapy

Alice Fitzsimons lives in Taunton and says she waited for months for a face-to-face appointment for her son Leo, 4.

She said: "His speech was delayed compared to his peers. I brought it up initially with the health visitor at the two year check and then she did the referral for both hearing and speech therapy.

"Whenever you read up about speech delay, they always say early intervention is so important and also the first five years of a child's life is the time that they learn the most, in particular their communication.

"So during that time, when you aren't able to get the help that you can in those early years, is very, very stressful as a parent and very worrying."

Having waited so long for Leo’s treatment, Alice decided to create an app to help parents.

It is called Pippin and was developed with speech therapists to give parents some tools to support them whilst they are waiting for therapy.

A spokesperson for Somerset NHS Foundation Trust said: “We are very sorry that Leo and other children have experienced longer waits than they should expect, and we are doing everything we can to bring these waiting times down.

“Over the last few years, we have seen an increase in the number of children referred into our service who need speech and language therapy. This is partly due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic where young children weren’t able to socialise with others as much, as well as a backlog of children needing specialist input, which had to be paused during lockdowns.

“We also have a number of speech and language therapist vacancies that we’ve been largely unable to fill, although we have had some positive recruitment recently, which we hope, in time, will bring down the waiting times.

“While children and young people wait for an assessment, we do have a range of resources available to them on our website, including advice sheets, video clips and strategies for parents to help build language skills. We also have a telephone advice line available to families.”