Our patients have no voice, so our profession is devalued

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The Independent Online
Speech therapists who work in the areas of autism and dyspraxia must complete a three-year degree course and many may also have to take a masters degree in linguistics and have supervisory, managerial and teaching responsibilities, writes Patricia Wynn Davies

At the Frenchay Hospital, Pamela Enderby worked in clinical assessment, diagnosis and treatment and supervised other therapists. While she became aware that a pharmacist who did not supervise a department was earning considerably more than her, she was as concerned for the effect of low pay on her profession when she began her war of attrition against the NHS.

"I want our profession to do well," she said yesterday. "Our patients are devalued; they have no voice, so that means our profession is devalued."

Aged 48, with the kind of reassuring presence that would inspire confidence in any patient, she left Frenchay last April to take up the post of professor of rehabilitation at Sheffield University, based at the Northern General Hospital: "I have effectively left my profession because I am a career- minded person and wanted to develop."

It takes about 10 to 12 years for a speech therapist to reach the top of her profession and the top of the salary scale. Most receive between pounds 15,000 and pounds 19,000 and that maximum is several thousands pounds less than the pay of a London Underground train driver.

The Health Service is constantly haemorrhaging these highly trained therapists, Professor Enderby said. Some turn to management jobs, not only in the NHS but with commercial firms who pay well, such as Marks & Spencer.

Never did she expect her case to take 11 years. But the struggle was worthwhile. "There are going to be a few more years of decisions before we feel we have really won. I want to see the effects on the profession. I was not so much motivated by pay but by how we keep people in this very valuable job."

Her solicitor, Sara Leslie, of the Sheffield firm Irwin Mitchell, said the tortuous procedure for proving equal pay for work of equal value claims was a scandal. A complaint is pending before the European Commission that the procedure is so time-consuming and expensive as to effectively deny women their legal rights.