VULNERABLE youngsters struggling to speak properly are likely to be casualties of £250,000 in budget cuts which will hit speech therapy services across Cumbria, it has been claimed.

Families fear that their children’s development will suffer as they rely on the free NHS service, not just for improving communication, but for learning at school.

But the service provider — Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust — which is currently consulting on the shake-up, maintains that modernisation is necessary.

It has confirmed that there will be a ‘reduction in senior posts,’ with changes to the ‘grades and roles of staff’.

But it says that this is to put more resources ‘on the ground’ with ‘less time spent on management’.

However, a campaigning union believes it means the county’s network of 40 therapists are at risk of redundancy for less-experienced, lower-paid rookies to be recruited to run a more widespread, but inferior, early diagnosis service.

Calling on parents and children to protest, Alan McGuckin, the Cumbria-based regional officer for the Unite union, said: “These cuts are being driven by financial diktats, and the plan is to replace highly-experienced therapists who have years of knowledge with therapists with less experience who will operate a basic screening service.

“You don’t have to be a genius to work out that some of the most disadvantaged children in Cumbria will be hit.”

Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust runs a South Lakeland and Furness service from the Fairfield Centre in Barrow and its Eden service from Carlisle.

It says that all its therapists have at least three to four years’ training and it wants to make the service more widely available across Cumbria.

It also wants the service to be better at intercepting and treating communication problems before they become too pronounced.

Rachael Maskell, Unite’s head of health, said: “The Cumbria situation is deeply worrying as it is another example of the direction of travel for the NHS in England under this Government.

“Services will either be stripped of cash, as appears to be happening in Cumbria, or they will be privatised.”

The uncertainty and claims and counter claims are worrying parents of those children using the service.

Parent Becky Eden, a mum of twins, said that her daughter Lily, eight, had come on leaps and bounds having had full-time support from a speech therapist at her primary school.

Lily was born with Rubinstein-Taybi syndrome, a condition characterised by short stature, learning difficulties and distinctive facial features.

It has also led to communication problems.

“For us it is fear of the unknown and how our children will be looked after in the future,” said Mrs Eden.

“We can’t see how this service will stay the same or get better.

“Yet my child is an example of how well the current system works.”