Cancer patients missing out on ‘vital’ speech and language treatment


Patients with mouth and throat cancer are missing out on “vital support to regain their speech” as new figures reveal just 58% were seen by a language therapist before treatment.

Every health board across Scotland missed the 90% target of ensuring patients undergoing treatment seeing a therapist.

Official figures for 2017-18 reveal that the percentage of patients seen before treatment to assess their voice, speech and swallowing ranged from 86.7% in NHS Lanarkshire to just 9.4% in NHS Fife.

There were 1,155 people diagnosed with head and neck cancers in Scotland in 2017/18 — up 10 from the previous year — with NHS Scotland failing to hit four of the 14 targets associated with the treatment of the disease.

The report on the performance of head and neck cancer treatment found that “staffing and demand issues” were a key reason for targets being missed, with Scotland’s Health Secretary facing calls from opposition parties to “address the workforce crisis”.

Scottish Labour shadow health secretary Monica Lennon said: “It’s unacceptable that almost half of patients with head and neck cancer are not getting access to a speech and language therapist before beginning treatment.

“The Health Secretary needs to look into this issue, and ensure that swift improvements are made by increasing resources in our NHS to address the workforce crisis.”

Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee
Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee

Miles Briggs, Scottish Conservative Shadow Health Secretary, said: “These figures clearly show that significant improvement is needed in access to specialist speech and language therapists prior to treatment across Scotland.

“People relearning how to speak after cancer treatment is incredibly important and everyone must have the support they need to do this.

“Across health boards in Scotland there is currently a postcode lottery for whether a patient sees a specialist speech and language therapist before treatment and we must see improvements.

Responding to the latest figures, Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said: “The cancer quality performance indicators (QPI) programme is a vital part of ensuring people have access to safe, effective care.

“Performance against the head and neck cancer QPIs have generally improved since the last period and I welcome the proactive approach of clinical teams in taking forward positive actions at local and regional level to drive further improvements.

“However work still needs to be done to improve consistency across all health boards.

“To support this, we’ve invested £100 million to improve the prevention, detection, diagnosis, treatment and aftercare of those affected by cancer, and our £850 million Waiting Times Improvements Plan will direct investment into substantial and sustainable improvements.”