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Kim Hughes, Harrogate, Richmond is the Queensland ICPA president.

Findings from a 2014 Senate Committee Inquiry into Speech Pathology Services in Australia confirm what has long been suspected – the demand for speech pathology servicesin Australia is at diabolical proportions. For rural remote students, the lack of alternative private providers make this demographic particularly vulnerable. In many instances, therapy cannot be accessed without travelling hundreds of kilometres to a larger centre, which is logistically and financially unviable.

The sheer demand for speech therapy services, coupled with vast distances between schools, has resulted in a severe shortage of face to face services in rural and remote schools and an issue ICPA has been lobbying for many years. In a bid to close this gap and increase the therapy sessions students receive, the Department of Education and Training has rolled out a ‘telepractice’ trial in the North Qld Region. The trial is exploring ways students can receive online therapy via technologies such as Skype, web conferencing programs and accessing Queensland Health’s telehealth facility at local health centres. At present eight rural schools (including one school of distance education) are participating and the trial is expected to be extended to the South-West Qld region next year.

One of the obstacles faced with the implementation of this trial is that inadequate internet reliability and bandwidth in many small communities has resulted in poor audio-visual quality of the session. Web conferencing is very ‘data hungry’ and we are encouraged that the department is investigating a number of low bandwidth software solutions.

Although we acknowledge that web-based delivery models cannot take the place of face to face therapy, we are hopeful it may complement and broaden the existing service and increase the level of care available. The sustainability of our rural and remote communities can only be achieved by having access to health and education services to cater to the needs of all residents. If these basic services do not exist, we will continue to see the steady decline of our small communities as families migrate to larger centres to access quality services.

– Kim Hughes,ICPA Qld President

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