Published on 13 October 2020
Swallowing is something most of us do several times an hour, but for some of our patients it’s something they need help with.
Step forward speech and language therapists – whose role is much more than just helping people with speech difficulties.
Speech and language therapists, or SLTs, are part of a group of healthcare staff known as Allied Health Professionals and this week is dedicated to highlighting and celebrating their work.
At East Kent Hospitals, SLTs work with patients in hospital, including people who are recovering from a stroke or who have had a tube fitted in their windpipe to help them breathe, to assess their swallow and work out ways to help.
This could include special exercises, or a modified diet starting with liquids and increasing the thickness over time.
The team can use technology to help them, including video fluoroscopy, where patients swallow different foods coated with a special substance that shows up on an x-ray. Alternatively, they may use a camera to look into someone’s throat as they swallow.
There are particular challenges for people who have been treated for head and neck cancer, where surgery to remove their cancer also often involves removing part of the tongue or jaw. Surgeons can perform reconstructive surgery but SLTs are needed to help patients rediscover their voice and re-learn how to swallow.
And the team also help people who have difficulties with speech, particularly those who have suffered a brain injury or who have a surgical airway. They use written communication and picture cards as well as other techniques and can help wean people off tracheostomies and re-learn how to speak.
Whatever the cause, no two patients are the same and each will require a different level of support – and during the coronavirus pandemic that has been a new challenge. But the team are using video conferencing while also re-starting outpatients clinics with suitable precautions in place. They now hope to expand the service so they can help even more people.