Speaking about medical diversity

October 24, 1997

YOUR opinion column (THES, October 10) rightly raises some concerns about the transfer of funding for students following "medical subjects" from the Department for Education and Employment to the Department of Health.

As two senior academics who are also registered speech and language therapists we too feel that this is, indeed, good and bad news.

The good news is that the government has indicated its concerns about attractingstudents to courses that do not lead to highly paid careers.

We hope that the DOH will recognise the need for diversity of entry into speech and language therapy and ensure funding for all preregistration students, whether they are studying at undergraduate or postgraduate level.

Since the 1972 Quirk report on the future of the speech therapy profession, it has been widely accepted that people receiving speech and language therapy (and this is a very mixed group of children and adults) have benefited from the unified degree-level education our students receive.

This education is multidisciplinary, encompassing clinical and academic teaching, both of which are enhanced by an active research base.

This active learningenvironment (that includes research facilities) enables students to develop skills that qualify them to deliver the "evidence-based clinical practice" that the health service is demanding.

If the change of funding can maintain or even improve these opportunities at both undergraduate and postgraduate level, then there is a chance that students will have the skills both to cope with the pace of change we anticipate in the next century and to deliver the quality of service within health and education services that those with communication problems deserve.

While the thought of contractual demands may be daunting, it is clear from teaching quality assessments, the research assessment exercise and Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists accreditation visits that such audits do have benefits. In the case of the RAE, the benefit is financial and is to staff and students alike.

Departments delivering courses in speech and language therapy need to be reassured that these hard-won benefits will not be lost.

Susan Edwards Senior lecturer in language pathology Department of linguistic science University of Reading

Jane Maxim Senior lecturer in speechpathology Department of humancommunication scienceUniversity College London

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