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Speech and language therapists share lessons on adapting patient care during pandemic


Speech and language therapists at South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust

Speech and language therapists at South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust have been working in innovative ways to adapt patient care during the COVID-19 pandemic, including introducing video consultations.

Their efforts came to national attention following an invitation by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) to give a presentation as part of a live webinar which was viewed by almost 500 people. This is now available online with the potential for worldwide viewings.

Staff have been piloting 'telehealth' digital technology to help patients to access speech and language healthcare services remotely during the pandemic. Using NHS Attend Anywhere - a secure video call service - they have been able to provide video consultations for a number of adults including head and neck cancer patients and others with neurological conditions; for children with communication problems, and for residents in some Sunderland care homes. In addition, they have been able to offer telephone clinics in some cases.

Ruth Rayner, Head of the Speech and Language Therapy Service based at Sunderland Royal Hospital, said: "We know that telehealth solutions are not suitable for everyone, for example, some patients do not have access to the technology needed or are unable to communicate because of their condition. However, we have had some good feedback from those who have been able to take advantage of the video consultations and telephone clinics so far and we are considering how we can use telehealth when the pandemic is over."

She added: "We were delighted to be given the opportunity, via the Royal College, to share our work nationally and celebrate all our good work that has resulted from the pandemic, as well as reflect on some of the more challenging experiences we have had. It helped us to realise how far we have come as a team in a relatively short time, supporting each other and learning in order to help the Trust to provide the best patient care we can for those with COVID-19, in hospital and in the community.

"We will be using the lessons we have learned to improve our service for the future and, by sharing them, we hope we can help other services, nationally and internationally, to do the same."

Whilst continuing to see the most urgent patients, most routine work for the adult and children's speech and language teams has been on hold. The presentation for the webinar - put together by Specialist Speech and Language Therapist Caroline Ewers with the support of colleagues Laura-Jayne Watson and Charlotte Craig – highlighted ways in which the service has adapted to help the Trust meet the unprecedented demands created by the pandemic, including:

  • 'Upskilling' some adult service staff for critical care work, if needed
  • Training for children's speech and language therapists, enabling them to be redeployed to work in the adult team
  • Running a childcare facility in the Speech and Language Therapy department for Trust staff
  • Children's speech and language therapists providing 'fit testing' i.e. ensuring protective FFP3 masks for Trust staff have a good seal

A recording of the webinar is now available on the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists YouTube channel and on its website 



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