Abigail Hooper

Job Title

Speech and Language Therapist

Where are you based?

In the community, visiting people in their homes.

Is your role clinical or non-clinical?


Tell us about your job

I work part time in a Community Learning Disability Team as the Lead Speech and Language Therapist (there is one other Speech and Language Therapist in the team and the other team members are from other health professions). I have a small caseload of adults with Learning Disabilities who need support with their communication or with their eating and drinking.

I mainly work with staff and families to improve communication with the patient, for example through the use of signing, pictures or a communication aid. This might help them to have more control and independence in their life. It could reduce their need to use destructive or self-injurious behaviours to try and communicate. 

I observe people eating and drinking and make recommendations for their mealtimes to help reduce the risk of choking or aspiration (food or drink going into the lungs). But I also spend quite a lot of time reviewing referrals, some for Speech and Language Therapy and some for the wider team, chairing meetings, providing placement education for students, and other leadership activities.

Why did you decide to join the NHS?

I had previously been working as an editor but I knew that wasn’t my ‘forever’ job. I was interested in language, communication and people so Speech and Language Therapy seemed like a good fit.

I wanted to work for the NHS so I would be part of a team and have different clinical opportunities at the start of my career. I also understood that the NHS, as a public body, offered stability of employment and a pension, family friendly policies and opportunities for flexible working which was important to me as I hoped to combine a career with having a family.

How did you come to work in the NHS?

I qualified as a Speech and Language Therapist in 2005 and immediately looked for jobs in the professional Bulletin of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapy. I interviewed for three jobs and was offered two of them.

I joined a large team of Speech and Language Therapists in Surrey who worked across several different clinical areas. I was able to work in the fields of Learning Disability, special schools, speech and language clinics, Autism assessment, and neuro rehabilitation.

What’s your day to day like?

Pre-pandemic, I was office based every day and went out on clinical visits to see people in their homes and day centres. I also attended meetings in the office, either meetings about specific clients, supervisions, or meetings to process our referrals, address safeguarding concerns, talk about how the team is run.

Now I am mostly working from home and attend those same meetings online, though I still drive out to see people in their homes and day centres about one day a week. I spend quite a lot of time on the phone, liaising with carers and families about how people are doing and what the next steps are.  

What are some of the challenges?

It can be hard to make changes for a person’s communication support and environment because the care they need is not always in place – or the patient’s carer does not see the value of what I am trying to put in place, or cannot prioritise it due to other pressures on their time.

It can be difficult to make sure you strike the right balance between a person’s safety and their quality of life when you are making recommendations for their eating and drinking. 

There are some complex issues of mental capacity when working with this population – e.g. whether a person has capacity or understanding to consent to our team’s involvement, or whether a person has capacity to understand and choose to ignore our recommendations. 

What is the best part of your role?

My lovely colleagues.

Seeing a client light up and start to interact when you introduce visual aids to the conversation.

Seeing someone with a severe physical disability access a communication aid to express themselves.

Singing and boogying with a client! Music is a powerful communication tool. 

Anything else you would like to share to a young person who is thinking about a career with the NHS?

As with other lines of work, don’t be shy – phone up prospective employers even if they are not advertising – they may have an old vacancy they couldn’t fill, they may value your time as a volunteer or a support worker and once you are with the team, in my experience, NHS teams are very keen to foster internal talent and retain you.

Also, be bold and apply for jobs at a higher banding because you might just be the person they are looking for – Speech and Language Therapy, for example, is a small profession and there could be a very limited pool of applicants – and if you’re not, you may still get interviewing experience and some valuable feedback. 

The NHS offers stability of employment and the flexibility to combine a career with family life. I have now been with the NHS for 17 years and I haven’t been disappointed! 

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