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Bryony Simpson MBE - Speech and Language Therapy, 1979

Bryony Simpson MBE qualified as a Speech and Language Therapist in 1979, starting her career in adult rehabilitation at Northwick Park Hospital, London.

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Bryony Simpson receiving an award

Bryony Simpson MBE qualified as a Speech and Language Therapist in 1979, starting her career in adult rehabilitation at Northwick Park Hospital, London. She completed a Masters in Professional Studies in Speech and Language Therapy from Leeds Beckett University in 1998 and has gone to make huge developments in the way speech and language therapy is used in the north. She was chair of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists from 2011 to 2014 and was the Deputy Medical Director of an Acute Hospitals Trust. She is currently Associate Dean for Yorkshire and the Humber Health Education England as well as a Guardian of Safe Working Hours for Junior Doctors.

Bryony tells us about her first experience working in the north: “I have always felt committed to improving the chances of the disadvantaged. When I moved to the north from London I soon realised that resources were far more stretched and services had to make do with less than services in the south.

“I was concerned by the lack of speech and language therapy (SLT) access for children and families, apart from a small and carefully guarded clinic service with long waiting lists. I also noticed that many pre-school children were arriving at school unable to hold a conversation. The delay in speech and language skills was holding back their development, which could have been avoided with an enriched environment.

“So, I brought together all the interested parties: parents, head teachers, educational psychologists, specialist teachers, voluntary groups and therapists to share our issues and arrive at a solution. We agreed to bring speech and language therapy out of clinics and into schools. We employed SLT assistants through the NHS and used teaching assistants in schools to roll out the programmes tailor made for individual children by their therapist.

“I then wrote a year long, BTec Level 3 course for SLT assistants, only the second in England, and we trained hundreds of assistants ensuring that the spread of our work continued. Following this successful collaboration, we were chosen to be a pilot area for the Bercow project and our community benefitted hugely with connection to governments and extra resources.

“My passion for my profession led me to become the Chair of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists enabling me to help steer the direction and policy at a national level. This was enormously fascinating and enjoyable and when I handed over to my successor, I asked for the UK scientific conference to be held in Leeds in 2014 so we could celebrate the work of the university and showcase the north.

Talking about her time at Leeds Beckett University: “I decided to undertake a Masters degree mid-way through my 40 year career as a speech and language therapist in the NHS. I loved my work but had three children and they were getting older, so I had a little more time to devote to learning and wanted to learn for pleasure and do something for myself. At times I needed a good deal of self-discipline to make the time for study. But it proved to be beneficial for my children to see me studying and blossoming with new knowledge and skills, helping them to appreciate that learning never stops.

“My two years on the course gave me the opportunity to reflect on my work and experiences of the previous 20 years of treating patients; on my behaviours and methods and on the plethora of health research related to my area.

“A colleague asked me if I was doing the Masters for promotion and to earn more money. I was a bit taken aback because I was not doing it for that but purely to update and improve my knowledge and skills. I was at a point in my career where we were doing more research locally and had been bitten by the bug, so hugely enjoyed the research methods and statistics module on the course.

“My employer was a Community Health provider and resources for research were scarce. I managed to set up a Research club to improve our skills, share projects and look at possible topics. This really took off and became very popular. We went from strength to strength with our projects presenting our work internationally and improving services for patients. I also had a great time meeting new people, encountering new methods of teaching and learning, upgrading my technology skills and sharing the highs and lows of work with others.

“Following my Masters, I was asked to lecture undergraduates and post-graduate students and to assist with the writing and assessing of a Masters course in Leadership. None of this would have been possible without the knowledge and skills I had gained from my Masters and I am forever grateful that I had the opportunity to complete it. Although I did not undertake the course with a specific end in mind, I can honestly say that it changed my life and many of my achievements since had their roots in this period of learning and growing.

Bryony has held a number of posts at Board level as well as chairing the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists from 2011 to 2014, acting as the Regional Allied Health Professionals Forum Lead for Yorkshire and the Humber from 2011 to 2013 and chairs for many years chaired the Yorkshire and the Humber Regional Allied Health Professionals Forum.

“Throughout my career I seized every opportunity to improve matters and put myself forward as a Professional Adviser to the local Primary Care Trust, ending up on the board and participating in shaping local services. After I became clinical lead in secondary care and through my work with other disciplines learned a huge amount to improve my own practice.

“I worked my way to become Deputy Medical Director of an Acute Hospitals Trust and was able to bring all my previous knowledge and experience to the leadership of a large, multi-professional workforce. Currently I am an Associate Dean for Yorkshire and the Humber Health Education England as well as a Guardian of Safe Working Hours for Junior Doctors. I now devote my time to improving life and learning for health professionals and the people they serve.

“I have always appreciated the power of bringing together the users and providers of services. Shaping services by listening to both parties has always resulted in a better provision and yet we are still not doing this consistently. Looking back on it now I would tell my younger self to look for where I can make a difference, have the courage of my convictions and make sure that everyone was represented, everyone has a voice.

“In these times of Covid-19 we have seen a huge increase in the public appreciation of health, social care and key worker staff. Current challenges have raised the profile of these services and rightly so. We appreciate the bravery, sacrifice and humanity of staff but what may be less understood are the huge rewards staff experience from caring for others.”

Bryony was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of the University in 2015 for her contribution to the professions. She also received an MBE in 2015.

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