UNION chiefs have raised fears that up to 3,500 children in the region could miss out on speech and language therapy.

Unite claims that County Durham clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) are seeking new providers to give therapy to a specified 2,000 children in the first year.

However, the union says that the three existing services are currently helping around 5,500 youngsters.

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Unite regional officer Martin Wright said: “How is this shortfall in service provision going to be made up?

“That’s the issue that should be sparking real concern amongst parents and the Durham public.

“The root cause for this is the £20bn of so-called savings being sucked out of the NHS during the course of this parliament.”

In response, NHS Darlington, Durham Dales, Easington, Sedgefield and North Durham Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) said it was identified in a 2012 review of children’s therapies that some services were not meeting local needs.

A spokesman added: “As a result, the PCT made a decision to re-procure speech and language therapy services for children across County Durham and Darlington.

“The current service providers, County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust; North Tees & Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust and City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust will continue to provide the service in the meantime and our young people, their families and carers will see no change to current provision."

The CCGs stressed that the service was not being withdrawn, discontinued or reduced.

The spokesman added: “It is about ensuring that our children and young people are able to access services that are equitable, of consistent quality across the County Durham and Darlington area and provide value for money.

“We are looking to commission a service with at least equal or greater capacity as the existing services.”