Community Practitioners' and Health Visitors' Association

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More scope for working together for speech and language therapists
and health visitors


, Lead Professional Officer
Community Practitioners’ and Health Visitors’ Association

There is scope for closer working between health visitors and speech and language therapists (SALTs), but at a time when there is a shortage of both skilled SALTs and health visitors, this looks problematical at present.

The best hope for further resources lies with the government’s National Plan that promises a reinvigorated health service within the next five years.

Health visitors are, in many respects, the ‘gatekeepers’ by which parents can gain access to the specialist help that SALTs can provide for their children. This not only means assistance with delayed speech, but the whole range of oral manipulation problems, such as swallowing and feeding.

Health visitors visit families with new babies from ten days after the birth. The number of times that a family is visited depends on the issues that are raised. The health visitor has a role in encouraging age-appropriate play and stimulation. They are aware that there are long waiting lists to see a SALT and will, therefore, make an assessment of a child to see if the issue is one that can be resolved without a referral to that waiting list.

For example, the fact that a child may have difficulty in formulating speech patterns commensurate with its age may be due to insufficient interaction by its parents. Health visitors are heavily involved in the Book Start initiative, which covers 92% of the UK. The scheme involves health visitors providing parents with reading packs for their children and the encouragement and support for parents to use the material.

All health visitors are trained nurses who have then gone on to complete a one-year post registration course in health visiting where there is an emphasis on child development. This is the minimum requirement to enter the profession. Many health visitors have additional qualifications ranging from midwifery, and paediatric nursing, to district and school nursing.

The key to greater collaboration between the two specialisms is the multidisciplinary team where problems that have been identified can be shared. Health visitors are part of the child development teams and this can give the opportunity to run joint sessions together with SALTS for parents and their children.

As caseloads never seem to lighten, health visitors and SALTs need to make that extra bit of time to discuss problems of mutual interest. Communication is the bedrock on which to build more fluent working relationships.