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22/125 Improving access and use of services for people with speech, language, and communication needs - supporting information


Published: 18 August 2022

Version: 1.0 - August 2022

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The right to communicate, to seek and impart information and ideas, and to have your mode of communication respected is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948. There are several policies guiding health and social care services in the UK, such as the Equality Act 2010 which states that public sector organisations must make changes in their approach or provision to ensure that services are accessible to all, including those with disabilities. The Accessible Information Standard, by law, requires all organisations that provide NHS or adult social care to follow a consistent approach in identifying, recording, flagging, sharing and meeting the information and communication support needs of patients, service users, carers and parents with a disability, impairment, or sensory loss. The Disability Discrimination Act 2005 places a responsibility on public bodies to ensure that people with disabilities have equal access to their services. People with speech, language, and communication needs (SLCNs) are vulnerable and often experience social isolation, including inequalities in seeking, accessing, processing and using health and social care information including poor relationships with health and social care staff.

SLCNs may be caused either by developmental or acquired conditions. Developmental conditions may affect the acquisition and learning of language, the understanding and/or use of spoken or written language, the production of speech, or the ability to effectively communicate with others. Acquired conditions may arise from illnesses or accidents (e.g. stroke, head injury, cancer) and can occur from early-childhood to older age. SLCNs in children and young people may lead to negative impacts on educational achievements and/or employment prospects, perceived challenging behaviour and misrepresentative involvement in the justice system, as well as impact social, emotional, and mental well-being. For example, the Bercow review highlighted how poor understanding of SLCNs leads to many children and young people not receiving adequate, effective, and equitable support which then can impact their educational outcomes, future employment prospects and their mental health.

Regardless of the age of the individual or the underlying cause, SLCNs are further impacted by barriers to using technology, such as remote communication, and these barriers may also result in limited ability to live autonomously and engage in activities of daily life, as well as reduced access to appropriate health and social care services, consequently leading to poorer quality of life. Long-standing issues of fragmented service provision, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, has led to substantial changes, such as reduced services and changes in service pathways and treatments for children, young people and adults with SLCNs.

Research priorities

Several priority setting partnerships (PSPs) conducted by the James Lind Alliance (JLA) and the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLTs) have identified research priorities to understand the experiences and barriers encountered by individuals with SLCNs from various conditions. The links below display the full set of JLA and RCSLT priorities that applicants are encouraged to refer to within the scope of this Call. Applicants are also welcome to refer to other relevant initiatives within the scope of the Call.

James Lind Alliance PSPs

Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists PSPs

List of relevant NIHR studies

List of relevant other studies