£1.2million study looks at treatments for children with speech and language problems

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

A major new research study that will identify and evaluate the types of treatment available for pre-school children with speech and language difficulties has been launched at Frenchay Hospital.

North Bristol NHS Trust has been awarded £1.2million from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) for the project which brings together national expertise and an impressive range of skills and will be carried out in partnership with Manchester Metropolitan University and the Universities of the West of England and Bristol

The project – which is the first of its kind in the country – is also supported by Coventry University, Barnardo’s and Afasic England, a national charity that aims to raise awareness and to create better services and provisions for children and young people with speech and language impairments.

Approximately six percent of all children in the UK will experience difficulties with their speech and language, in the apparent absence of any other problems with their health, development or intelligence. These children often experience difficulties with their education and with their social and emotional development as they get older. They are often isolated and at risk of being bullied and teased as they go through school. During their pre-school years they are usually referred for speech and language therapy support.

Professor Sue Roulstone, Clinical Research Director at the Speech and Language Therapy Research Unit at Frenchay Hospital and Underwood Trust Professor of Language and Communication Impairment at UWE, is leading the research. She said: “There are a number of ways of offering this support but we do not know what sort of help works best for which children and which families.

“Across the country there is considerable variation in how speech and language therapy services are organised, with little evidence to support any particular combination of support.

“This research programme will identify the critical aspects of intervention that can be varied to support children with different needs and families in a range of differing circumstances.

“We will identify what research exists to support different ways of providing support. We also plan to work with families, children and speech and language therapists to find out what they think about the many different ways of doing things.”

By the end of the three-year research programme, Sue and her team hope to be able to describe, in detail, the various ways therapists can provide support to children and their families. They also want to list the methods which are supported by research evidence and which ones are perceived to be most helpful by families.

Sue added: “We will also be looking at how best to assess the needs of children and their families so that the right intervention can be offered to that individual child at the right time.

“To help achieve this, we will be developing tools that help the therapists and families to identify the right programme of support. These tools will also help therapists and the NHS more generally to evaluate the success of the individual programmes.”

An important use of this NIHR grant funding will be to increase researcher capacity within the North Bristol NHS Trust and Manchester Metropolitan University and several new research and training posts will be advertised in the coming weeks.

This year is the National Year of Communication and the ‘Hello’ campaign has just been launched to increase understanding of how important it is for children and young people to develop good communication skills. In Bristol, the campaign is supported by the local Children’s Trust. NHS Bristol, North Bristol NHS Trust and Bristol City Council have agreed to work with other organisations in the city to support the national campaign.