The parents of a boy experiencing delays with his speech have resorted to hiring a private therapist after refusing to wait months for access to publicly funded therapy.
Kim and David Hubbard’s son, Alfie, was hardly speaking when he started pre-school at two-years-old.
The couple, from Troston, were advised to take him to the speech and language therapy service at Bloomfield House, in Bury St Edmunds, where it was confirmed he had ‘severe speech delay of around 12-18 months’.
In October last year, after having regular assessments, hearing tests to rule out any underlying health problems, carrying out exercises both at home and pre-school and learning to sign, the couple started hiring a private therapist, refusing to join what they claim was ‘a 12-18 month waiting list for free speech therapy’.
Mrs Hubbard said: “Why should we have to pay for this when it should be provided?
“We have no choice but to pay as Alfie would still not be getting any funded therapy and he will be in full time school in September – how will he learn to read and write if he can’t talk?
Since spending around £200 a month on therapy, the couple say Alfie’s speech has ‘come on leaps and bounds’, with improved confidence enabling him to make friends.
Mrs Hubbard, 29, said: “We have had to ask for help from family with these costs, but will do whatever we have to to make sure our boy gets what he needs.”
The mother-of-two blames the delays in accessing free therapy on funding cuts.
She said: “There’s no reason for Alfie’s speech delay. He was raised by being read to at a young age and we always speak to him - he’s not one of these kids that gets put in front of the TV all day.
“My husband works full time and I work part time and volunteer for several things in the village too. We pay our taxes and contribute heavily to the country.
“We have never claimed benefits, always worked for what we want and, when we need help for our child, it’s not there.
“There are further cuts planned for this department. Things are only going to get worse - something needs to be done.”
A recent national survey by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) revealed more than two-thirds of therapists working with children were having to ration services they provided, or stop providing them altogether, because of budget cuts.
It also highlighted increases in waiting times for children from 18 to 42 weeks.
Kamini Gadhok, RCSLT chief executive, said: “Speech and language therapy is proven to be a cost-effective intervention and we know that early identification and intervention is vital to improving a child’s life chances.
“Sadly, the short-term approach to budget decisions that we are witnessing will not only cost more money in the long-term, but will have a significant and avoidable impact on a whole generation of children.”
Amanda Barlow, of Serco, which runs Suffolk Community Healthcare, said no child in Suffolk waited longer than 18 weeks for an initial assessment, but that waiting times for more specialised therapy did vary.
She said: “We recognise the importance of delivering timely paediatric speech and language therapy services and endeavour to see patients as quickly as possible.
“We can confirm that we offer all children referred to the service an appointment within the 18 week timescale, and offer advice and support according to need at the initial appointment.
“Any ongoing needs identified which require regular therapy or follow up are prioritised according to the severity of the problem, and also according to the individual needs of the child.
“Children who are waiting for therapy are given advice about activities or programmes that can be followed, either by the parents and/or by support staff in early years or school settings.” Mrs Hubbard praised Ixworth’s nursery school and its Play and Learn Centre for the ‘fantastic work’ they have done with Alfie.
She said: “Without the support of these two places Alfie would be in a much worst position with his speech. The time they have spent with him goes above and beyond in my eyes.”
To find out more about RCSLT, go to www.rcslt.org/
If you are concerned about a child’s talking, listening or understanding, or want more information about speech, language and communication, visit www.ican.org.uk/help or call 020 7843 2544.