§ Tim Loughton
To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) what measures he is taking to increase the provision of speech therapists dealing with children and adults with autism; 
(2) whether he will consider introducing ring-fenced funding to promote the greater provision of speech therapists dealing with people with autism; 
(3)how many speech therapists are available to deal with people with autism in each health authority in England and Wales. 
§ Mr. Hutton
Speech and language therapists have a broad range of responsibilities and autism is one of the many important disorders with which they can help. The proportion of their time devoted to treatment of people with autism varies according to local needs assessment. So it is not possible to quantify the amount of speech and language therapy that is used to specifically treat autism. As at September 2000 there were 5,343 (headcount) speech and language therapists working in the national health service with 4,070 whole-time equivalents.
Between 1997 and 2000 the number of speech and language therapists working in the national health service has increased by 560 (11 per cent.) and the number of training places available for students has increased by over a hundred since 1998. There will be further increases in the number of students entering training as a result of the NHS Plan commitment to provide 4,450 more training places each year for therapists and other health professionals by 2004. The increased investment in training, work to make the national health service a better employer and investment in return to practice initiatives will result in a continuing increase in the number of speech therapists available to work in the national health service.
It is for health authorities in partnership with primary care groups/trusts and other local stakeholders to determine how best to use their funds to meet national and local priorities for improving health, tackling health inequalities and modernising services.