Stammering experts explain how Sheffield service changes lives amid closure threat

Patients and practitioners spoke at a recent Sheffield Council meeting to raise concern about a speech and language service closing to adults.

By Molly Williams, Local Democracy Reporter
Monday, 19th July 2021, 4:43 pm

The Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust service closed to new adult referrals in April and is considering doing so permanently.

It followed a review sparked by an increasing demand that was outstripping capacity.

Permanent closure would mean more than 100 patients already receiving treatment for stammer or cleft lip and any new referrals over the age of 18 would be directed to an alternative provider likely to be outside of Sheffield.

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City centre.

In an adult social care scrutiny meeting, Isabel O’Leary, speech and language therapist at the Trust, said she has led the service since the 1990s and it has always been for children and adults and nationally recognised for its excellence.

Kirsten Howells, helpline support manager lead for Stamma, said since it closed in April, their helpline and webchat services were made aware of six cases where adults who were urgently seeking therapy for stammering had their referrals rejected by the service.

She explained the severe impact stammering can have with examples including police mistaking dysfluency for nervousness or lying, being mocked, it affecting ability to work and feeling suicidal.

She said: “Having a stammer can mean that every day life is an obstacle course. Situations that fluent speakers take for granted can be really tricky for some people who stammer. Things you might think of as small things can become really big things.”

A council officer read out letters from those who were unable to attend the meeting in person.

Dean Ridge, founder of a stammering support group for adults in Sheffield, was one of those who sent a letter.

He said: “I was a covert stammerer which meant I hid my stammer and did everything possible to avoid situations where I might stammer and be found out. We worked on acceptance and destabilisation to stammering and this was literally life changing for me because it led to life decisions and experiences that simply weren’t open to me before therapy.

“I am now a proud stammerer who isn’t afraid to speak any more. For all of my adult life I would only say what I could fluently and now I say what I want to, regardless of whether I stammer. This is such a massive difference for me in a world where communication is so important.”

He went on to explain how he has helped others since receiving support from the service and added: “None of this would have happened without access to SLT as an adult. I know the stammering service made a very important difference to my life and I am concerned to hear this is no longer available.

“What are adults like me supposed to do when they reach out for help, perhaps due to concerns that have been building up over time or because they hit a crisis point, and all they get is a rejection letter saying ‘sorry, there is simply no support for you here’?”