The body representing speech and language therapists has warned of lengthening waiting lists faced by children and others who need their services, due to the ongoing impact of redeployment to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic.
Figures provided in response to a parliamentary question from Michael Moynihan TD show that, of a total staff complement of 1,139 speech and language therapists, 16 had been seconded to contact-tracing, and another 179 were working in test centres as of September 18.
As for the number of occupational therapists directly employed by the HSE and redeployed to support Covid-19 services, out of a total staff complement of 1,669, eight were in contact-tracing and 78 in test centres.
In the response to Mr Moynihan, the HSE said: "Please note that the total complement of staff above reflects all settings across the HSE. Due to the dynamic nature of redeployments to address changing requirements and the limitations associated with HR data collection processes, information related to the breakdown of staff that have been deployed on a full and part-time basis is unavailable."
The Irish Association of Speech and Language Therapists (IASLT), the recognised professional body for the profession, said a survey of its members last May showed 47% of public sector speech and language therapists (SLTs) who had responded had reported experiencing some form of redeployment to support Covid-19.
"Suspension of essential SLT services has occurred at significant cost to service users and their families," the association stated.
"Re-deployment of SLTs results in cessation of service users’ access to essential SLT services. We are aware that there are different service-related disruptions across the country leading to inequalities of access."
It said some SLTs have returned to practice and are attempting to restart services with Covid restrictions in place.
"Waiting lists have increased. Delayed early intervention may result in children ultimately never receiving the SLT services they need at the time they need it. Children who were already in services may have lost some of the gains that were made, whereas others who are newly referred to services, are not able to access assessment and/or intervention."
The IASLT said it is "seeing the effects of redeployment everywhere".
"Adults and children whose services were already limited now have nothing; Disruption to primary care services affects hospital admissions, discharges home, prompt diagnosis, early intervention, and ongoing rehabilitation, which results in poorer outcomes."
It also said where services had been reopened, new methods of service delivery, such as telepractice, were being used and, although this is successful and effective for many service users, difficulties in access to electronic devices and wi-fi connectivity prevented it from being offered to all clients.
The IASLT also said the Government now needs to specify how backlogs will be prioritised.
"After the pandemic, many existing service users will have unmet needs," it said.
"IASLT urges Government to specify at a national level how children, young people, and adults with speech, language, communication, and swallowing needs are going to be supported and ensure that services are fully resourced."