Oxford Health employs a wide range of Allied Health Professionals (AHPs) and, although they are the second largest group of employees in the NHS, some of their work is not too well known.

David Ward is a speech language therapist, whose role is clinical lead in adult dysfluency for Oxford Health.

He works with clients who stammer, also known as a stutter, and clutter – a speech/language disorder with fast or jerky speech and often disorganised sounding language.

A day in the life – there’s no two the same

He explains: “My day begins with a sift through the emails and other correspondence, if at all possible accompanied by a cup of coffee.

“A proportion of these emails comprise queries from clinicians working in other Trusts and sometimes overseas regarding their clients who stammer or clutter. I work for two days a week for Oxford Health so there is usually a fair amount to catch up on.

“No two days are alike – one of the things I like about the job. Most appointments are one-to-one but I sometimes see clients together, and I run two-day intensive groups to help clients carry over the changes they have made in clinic to everyday life.

“I may get called out by colleagues working in an adult neurological setting to give second opinions, and sometimes to help plan management strategies for their clients who may have stammer related issues relating to neurological change.

“People who stammer and clutter are no different to anyone else, apart from this neurological ‘glitch’ the results of which, even when present in mild form can have a devastating effect on a person’s quality of life. The opportunity to meet other clinicians and learn about their disciplines is another big bonus.”

Lucky leads to AHP role

So how did David find his way into such a specialist job that really helps enhance the lives of patients? David believes good fortune was partly responsible: “I was working full time in research and lecturing in phonetics and disorders of fluency at the University of Reading when I saw the part time specialist post in Oxford being advertised.

“I loved my job at Reading, but missed the client contact. The service, which is based at the Apple House in the grounds of the Warneford Hospital, had long been regarded as a centre of excellence for stammering and had a nationwide reputation. It was too good an opportunity not to go for. For the last 20 years I have combined my two days per week at Oxford with three days at Reading.”

As everyone has found out in recent months, COVID-19 has brought big changes for many people. So how has it affected speech and language therapy?

“Covid has been challenging.” David says, “I was one of the clinicians who was not seconded to work in other areas, and instead the fluency service went online.

“Some clients have thrived working with this format. These tend to be younger people and those who I had met face to face prior to lockdown. For one client it saved a 60 mile round trip to attend in Oxford and I don’t think any quality was lost through meeting virtually.

“But where we have older clients who are shielding and unable to use the technology we have had to postpone sessions for the time being for safety. That is a shame, but we will get to them and help as soon as we can.”