Waiting lists for speech and language therapy exist when services do not meet demand. Waiting lists pose practical and ethical challenges for speech and language therapists (SLTs) and workplaces to manage, with potential flow on effects for children and families.
The present study aimed to describe SLTs’ perspectives about waiting lists for children with speech, language, and communication needs (SLCN) and explore waiting list management strategies.
The present study reports on 187 SLTs’ written responses to open-ended questions in a questionnaire. SLTs were from nine countries, had an average of 12 years’ experience in the profession (range 0.2–45 years), and either currently or had previously worked with children. Data were analysed qualitatively using thematic analysis.
SLTs’ feelings about their waiting lists centred on three themes: (1) negative (e.g., “overwhelmed”, “stressed”, “anxious”, “embarrassed”); (2) neutral (e.g., “not too bad”, “okay”); and (3) positive (e.g., “manageable”, “proud”). Four themes related to waiting list management: (1) SLT service delivery (e.g., triage, use of technology in service provision); (2) workplace processes and policies (e.g., eligibility criteria, prioritisation); (3) SLT workforce (e.g., recruitment and retention of skilled SLTs); and (4) inaction (e.g., waiting list management was “out of my hands”).
Waiting lists can have negative consequences and many SLTs take action to manage waiting lists; however, waiting list management strategies are not necessarily effective which can impact children’s outcomes. There is a need to reimagine service delivery and identify effective actions for managing speech and language therapy waiting lists at a local and systemic level in order to optimise outcomes for children and families.