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Award for 'telehealth' stammering therapy project

Tim Fell | 05.12.2017

BSA Chair Tim Fell reports from the Guardian Public Service Awards where the stammering project came top in its category.

Group with telehealth project awardLast Tuesday night I was privileged to accompany Steph Burgess and Jody Cowgill (SLT and Project Manager at Airedale NHS Foundation Trust) to the Guardian Public Service Awards in London. The stammering telemedicine project, nearing the end of a year-long pilot, had been shortlisted for the digital and technology award along with two other projects.

As the envelope was opened by actor Sally Phillips to announce the winner, you could hear a pin drop. Not when Airedale’s name came out, though. The three of us jumped up into the air, whoopin’ and hollerin’.

Winning the Guardian digital and technology Public Service Award is an outstanding achievement by Airedale NHS Foundation Trust, and by Speech and Language Therapist, Steph Burgess, in particular. The Award celebrates a combination of innovative thinking, the imaginative use of widely available technology, and the determination to deliver a much-needed service to people in need. Steph’s work demonstrates that speech therapy, delivered remotely, can be very successful. It allows adults who stammer access to speech therapy in areas of the country where there is no specialist NHS provision.

The Award celebrates a combination of innovative thinking, the imaginative use of widely available technology, and the determination to deliver a much-needed service to people in need.

But it’s more than that. Steph’s work is a template for a wider consideration of how speech therapy can be delivered. If you accept that a specialist speech therapy service can be offered via video link to clients’ laptops, tablets and mobile phones, then you enable many more people to benefit from it. The flexibility and convenience that is possible with this Guardian Public Service awardapproach means that, for those who can’t travel or spare the time to be away from family or work, speech therapy suddenly becomes possible. A lunch break, or an hour before the baby wakes up, becomes a therapy session. People who live in the country, miles from a health centre, will feel that speech therapy is now accessible. Soldiers serving in Iraq can get help from their bunk.

So far, so good. But there is a cloud on the horizon. The funding for the pilot project is provided by NHS Improvement via the Health Foundation. The pilot comes to an end in March 2018 by which time we need to have found a new source of money in order to continue the service. We are currently looking at trying to get it commissioned by NHS England. Fingers crossed…

The BSA has collaborated in the project from the start, and it’s through the BSA website that most of the referrals for speech therapy have come. It’s a great example of how we can work with our partners to improve the lives of people who stammer.