'Time for action' on speech pathology services

03 September, 2014

The time for talk is over. The time for action is now. That is the key message from the Australian Senate's Community Affairs Committee's report into speech pathology services in Australia.

Deb Theodoros, President of Speech Pathology Australia, in welcoming the committee's report said: "For the first time we have a clear road map that all governments can follow to deliver adequate speech pathology services to the Australian community.

"For the first time, we have a parliamentary committee that has reported on the issue of speech pathology services in Australia. And for the first time we have official confirmation that early and effective intervention in speech and language disorders saves taxpayers' money.

"The committee has outlined in clear terms what government must now do."

Currently more than 1.1 million Australians have a communication or swallowing disorder that impacts on their quality of life. Roughly the same number of Australians who live with diabetes! And three times the number of Australians who suffer from dementia.

The committee's report confirms that one in nine Australian preschool children stutter and without intervention by a speech pathologist will suffer long-term social and economic distress. And that adults (aged 34 years) who had a language impairment at the age of five, are seven times more likely to have poor reading skills, have five times higher odds of mental health difficulties, and three times the odds of unemployment.

Waiting too long for treatment

The report also found that Australians are waiting too long for treatment. Figures uncovered by the committee indicate that 25 per cent of parents reported being on waiting lists longer than six months, with 15 per cent waiting more than one year; and 18 per cent waiting a further year after assessment for treatment.

Debra* who gave evidence to the Senate Committee said, "This Senate Report must be a beginning. We must not allow it to be the final word.

"I wanted to tell my son's story because I believed it could make a difference. I hope that my time and efforts have not been in vain.

"I cannot stress enough that early intervention is critical. The costs to individuals and our community from delays or failing to act is just too high."

The Senate's Community Affairs committee's report recommends:

  • An analysis is immediately conducted to identify the cost of the current level and adequacy of speech pathology services in Australia
  • Government at all levels work to develop policies that acknowledge and recognise the need to Increase access to treatment for people with speech and language disorders
  • Funding is provided for an appropriate research institute to conduct an audit of the adequacy of existing speech and language services for children
  • Further statistics on speech and language disorders are collected through the National Census conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics
  • The 'postcode lottery' of finding a speech pathologist in rural and regional Australia is addressed the current funding model for speech pathology services in aged care residential homes is reconsidered as part of the federal government's ongoing aged care reforms
  • The impact of the National Disability Insurance Scheme on the demand and supply of speech pathology services is investigated
  • Speech pathology students at Australian universities receive further clinical exposure and experience