THE mother of a fouryear- old girl who is unable to speak has criticised the NHS after a long wait to see a speech therapist.

Katharine Todd recently turned four but is unable to speak more than a couple of words.

Her parents, Kirstey Walker and Will Todd, still do not know what is causing her speech problems.

Miss Walker, from Darlington, said the situation was heart-breaking because her daughter was finding it very difficult to settle in at nursery school.

She said: “Imagine your child not being able to play with others and not making friends because they can’t talk during play time. Imagine them being ignored, not being able to tell you about their day.

Imagine trying to communicate, but not being understood.”

Miss Walker said she understood spending cuts were being made, but asked whether this should be “at the expense of little children’s lives”.

In desperation, the couple turned to a private speech therapist but after spending £240 on four £60- an-hour sessions they have decided they cannot afford to have any more.

Katherine had five sessions with an NHS speech therapist at Darlington Memorial Hospital in the first few months of last year.

Nothing happened for another four months until last June when her case was reviewed.

It was at that stage her parents were told that she faced a lengthy wait to see a specialist therapist, but would probably be seen by September.

But when Katharine started nursery school in Mowden last September, the family were told they were still 25th in the queue.

And in December they were told they were still only 15th.

“We have constantly been on to the hospital, but you feel like you are just banging your head against a brick wall. It has been so long now, you feel like giving up.”

A spokesman for the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists said the situation across the country was “very grim”, with three per cent of speech therapists leaving the profession every year and cutbacks in funding across the country.

Last year, the Royal College launched a national campaign called Giving Voice to highlight the vital role played by speech therapists and to urge local NHS and local authority commissioners not to cut back on spending on speech therapy.

A spokeswoman for County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust said: “We are very sorry to hear the frustrations of Ms Walker and empathise with her situation.

Her daughter has received a series of therapy sessions through our service and therapists, working together with a range of multi-disciplinary health professionals, continue to review her needs and make recommendations for further support.

“We would always encourage our patients, parents or carers to contact us directly with concerns or feedback so we can discuss individual cases in more detail. We would welcome the opportunity to do so with Miss Walker".