*UPDATED 23 July 2019, 16:40*
Chief executive of Cambridge Community Services (CCS), Matthew Winn, has apologised for shortcomings relating to speech and language therapy input into special education needs and disability (SEND) services in Bedfordshire, saying: “We messed up…”.
He made the apology at a meeting of the Bedfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) in which a report into the SEND provision across the county was discussed.
The report found that despite speech and language therapy listed in their Educational Healthcare Plan (EHCP), 220 young people had not been seen in more than 12 months, many not for two years.
Of the 53 requests made to community health services to contribute advice into an EHCP, only one was submitted within the six-week statutory timeline, according to the report.
Bedford Borough was inspected by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission in February 2018 over its implementation of SEND reforms.
The lead inspector asked the Borough Council and the CCG for a joint written statement of action because of “significant areas of weakness in the local area’s practice,” added the report.
A final response was submitted to Ofsted a year ago and has been formally approved.
Confusing letters to parents
Matthew Winn apologised at the CCG meeting for sending out two letters that “could easily be very confusing and indeed were very confusing.”
He said: “We have confused parents up and down Bedfordshire and I’m sorry about that, entirely our own fault.”
There were 210 letters sent out “for [the] Bedford Borough area for children with EHCPs that we should have been seeing”, he told the CCG.
“Separately we wrote to 360 families across Bedford and Central Bedfordshire asking: ‘Does your child still need active speech and language therapy input?’
“Unfortunately the letter wasn’t very clear. It was very clunky and it confused people. And again I’m sorry about that.
“The good news is there has been some extra money put together to make sure we can work through the backlog as quickly as possible into next term.
“We can get all the initial work done and then be on top of that work going forward, as the referrals never stop.
“Every September and October, we get a huge influx of referrals into speech and language therapy from children who’ve just gone into nursery and primary school.
“There’s always a massive spike at that point.”
He said some of the work can be done in an educational setting without the need for a qualified speech and language therapist as a first point of call.
“We messed up. We are rectifying that,” he added.
“We have agreed with the parent forum and the CCG letters which will go out to families today profusely apologising for our clunky language.
“As of Monday (22 July), we will have a fully staffed telephone line to receive all the calls from those 210 families, but also the 360 families across Bedfordshire and Luton who can then book in for their child to be seen or to say ‘We don’t need it’.
“We have to ensure we have a better coordinated approach and we are supporting children according to their plan.
“There’s an element of us just getting out of the bunker a bit.
“There was just an enormous mess in there. Getting it stabilised and doing something different is going to be helpful.”
The CCG’s director of nursing and quality Anne Murray said: “There’s some real positive work going on. We have agreed resources across and we have two joint appointments, so we are understanding the issues we have, both ourselves and Bedford borough.
“We have also agreed £10,000 funding to go the parent carer forum, and that’s something we have talked about for a long time.
“There’s a lot of work around the new model of delivery that is required across the borough.
“So while we’re not where we need to be, there’s a lot of very positive work going on.
“One of the challenges we have had is in reporting and actually getting the appropriate data,” she added.
“That’s been a significant step forward for us because it’s really important we understand the numbers and flows.
“We have identified there are people waiting a long time for services, primarily speech and language therapies, so extra resources have gone in.
“By November, at the latest, everyone will have been seen again and offered a first appointment. So the work is happening in relation to all the key areas.
“There will be future questions around mental health services and around occupational therapy (OT) and sensory OT. There’s still a huge amount of work to be done.
“And we expect to be reinspected in Bedford Borough by the end of this year or the New Year.”
Central Bedfordshire Council is still waiting for its inspection.
Words: Euan Duncan, Local Democracy Reporter and Paul Hutchinson
This report was updated to clarify details around Mr Winn’s apology, which was for shortcomings relating to speech and language therapy input
and not SEND services as a whole.