When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the UK in March 2020, speech and language therapy, like many other health services, was brought to a standstill.

It has now been over two years since the first lockdown and the team of speech and language therapists (SLTs) in the Western Isles are proud of successfully transforming their service in the face of the pandemic.

SLTs traditionally relied heavily on in person, face-to-face communication which could no longer be delivered safely and, almost overnight, all over the country, they were required to rewrite their practices and search for new solutions.

The Western Isles’ team of SLTs were however a step ahead, already working in a unique way to deliver remote services in Gaelic and in English to patients all over the islands and were therefore able to quickly embrace a whole new level of using teletherapy and technology beyond the familiar video conferencing they were used to.

The team created digital games, videos and other digital therapy materials, used multiple screens, green screen technology, and specialist software for live streaming. This allowed them to continue delivering their vital services to the communities that needed their support.

Much of that success has been down to a team of speech and language therapy assistants who quickly adapted to develop innovative solutions.

Christine Lapsley, NHS speech and language therapy manager for the Western Isles, said: “Our speech and language therapy assistants were the jewels in our crown, coming up with innovative and exciting ideas every day and pushing us to rapidly expand our technological knowledge, skills, and repertoire to the edges of possibility.

“Excellent teamwork, a lot of creativity, and a group of staff who worked from home with big hearts and huge motivation, allowed us to immediately spring into action. Within a few short weeks we completely transformed the way we delivered our service – to continue supporting our clients, including people in hospital with acute conditions and children who were finding it hard to speak, understand or use language.”

Glenn Carter, the RCSLT’s head of Scotland office, said: “It’s a credit to the Western Isles team that it was able to adapt so quickly and continue delivering services to the population with minimal disruption in the midst of a global pandemic.”

Please find below two speech and language case studies from the Western Isles.

Case Study A:

“Child A has autism and does not speak. They were provided with an iPad with a communication app shortly before the initial lockdown began. Motivated by singing simple nursery rhymes with a member of the team on a video call they were able to engage and joined in using the iPad. They were also able to use it to ask for things they wanted. Child A is now able to make simple sentences and will use the keyboard, with some prompting, to spell words. They quickly learned how to use the communication app and with encouragement now use it to get what they need in school and at home too.”

Case Study B:

“Child B is a Gaelic speaking pre-schooler with a severe stammer and a strong family history of stammering on both sides of the family. Understandably, the parents were anxious. The team started teletherapy with this family in June 2020 and although they have never been in the same room with them, they feel like they know them so well. To begin with, there was a lot of email and telephone contact as well as video appointments with the child. A virtual appointment was made for the parent with a clinical advisor from the Michael Palin Centre in London who gave advice regarding bilingualism and stammering.”

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