NHS Could Fund Speech Technology

16 June 2015, 15:09 | Updated: 16 June 2015, 15:13

Speech synthesisers for disabled people who have lost their voice could be available on the NHS before the next Holyrood election, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has suggested.

Motor Neurone Disease (MND) patient and campaigner Gordon Aikman demonstrated a speech synthesiser to Ms Sturgeon at Holyrood today to urge her government to make them more widely available.

Mr Aikman, who was diagnosed with the terminal condition last year and is now confined to a wheelchair, was given a British Empire Medal in this year's Queen's Birthday Honours list for his campaigning.

Ms Sturgeon said: "We're keen to make sure that equipment like this, which is a lifeline for many people who have lost their voice through conditions like MND, is available routinely on the NHS.

"This is fantastic technology, the technology is developing all the time and we need to make sure that how we are dealing with these things on the NHS keeps pace with that.

"We're looking actively at this just now. We are working with MND Scotland, just like we did through the provision of increased specialist nursing capacity.

"I'm determined, and Gordon Aikman knows this, to do as much as we can do to make life easier for people with MND where the right supports are in place."

When asked if she would make it an election pledge in the SNP's 2016 manifesto, Ms Sturgeon said: "I'm not keen to constrain ourselves in terms of the electoral cycle.

"For people living with MND this is urgent, time is not on their side, so I'm keen, as we did for specialist nursing, to not wait for a manifesto but just get on and do the right thing."

Mr Aikman said: "Nobody with MND should die without a voice.

"With 80-90% of people with MND experiencing some amount of voice loss before they die, what we are saying is let those people get their hands on the equipment they need to communicate.

"It's time for Scotland to catch up with the rest of the UK. We lead the way in so many things but we are behind on this.

"It doesn't matter what the condition is, if you lose your voice you should get the equipment you need to have conversations, say the things that you had always planned, plan the end of your life, things like that.

"Imagine going through that process, being given a terminal diagnosis and not being able to speak, not being able to communicate with your doctors, your carers, your family. It's such a terrifying prospect it just doesn't bear thinking about.

"So, I am calling on the Scottish Government to change the law to make sure that nobody dies without a voice."

Mr Aikman met the leaders of all five Holyrood parties today and they have all agreed to work together to make the technology available on the NHS.

He added: "They are going to pull together and unite on this issue, which is great. So rarely do we see our politicians agree to come together and work on an issue like this.

"So, I am glad to have support from right across the political spectrum and I am hopeful that the First Minister will listen to the powerful case that's being made."