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NHS must tackle ‘hidden tragedy’ of incontinence, says CSP

CSP press release published on 20 September 2013

Efforts to tackle the taboo subject of incontinence must place a greater focus on preventative, less-invasive measures, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) says today.

Updated guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) emphasise drug treatments, invasive procedures and surgery as ways of dealing with the condition, which affects about five million people in Britain.

But the CSP says NHS commissioners should not ignore the existing advice from NICE that pelvic floor muscle exercises be used as a 'first line' course of treatment.

Raising awareness of those measures and enhancing access to rehabilitation services would save money for the NHS and enable women to make improvements in their condition without underoing unnecessary procedures, the CSP says.

A pilot scheme that enabled women to refer themselves to physiotherapy without first having to visit a GP showed the benefits of tackling the condition early on.

Patients said needing to explain their symptoms only once made seeking help less uncomfortable. This meant they dealt with the condition earlier and more effectively.

But the CSP scheme also revealed low levels of awareness about the simple steps people can take to tackle the condition, and how physiotherapy can play a key part in that recovery.

Ruth ten Hove, professional adviser at the CSP, called for the NHS to deliver better provision of services and to raise awareness of how people can access them.

“There are a range of options available for tackling continence issues but simple measures like pelvic floor muscle exercises must be more heavily promoted.

“They are proven to be clinically and cost-effective and our scheme showed that enabling a person to access physiotherapy without first seeing a GP meant they started receiving help straight away.

“For many women this is a significant emotional barrier to overcome – feelings of embarrassment and shame are often reported, which can affect their day-to-day lives and lead to social isolation.

“It’s understandable that people find it a difficult subject to discuss, but that’s why it is so important to promote the help that is available from physiotherapists.

“The NHS must invest in and raise awareness of services such as self-referral physiotherapy to help us tackle the hidden tragedy of incontinence.”

Pilot schemes for the CSP study were carried out at seven sites across England over the course of 16 months.

The results showed being able to self-refer to women’s health physiotherapy led to high levels of patient satisfaction; easier access to services and saved time; and greater levels of attendance and completion of treatment.

Research estimates that urinary incontinence affects 20 per cent of people aged 40 and over, rising to 36 per cent for women aged 80 and over.

Hospital admissions linked to continence issues are estimated to have cost the NHS £1.4-£2.1 billion each year.

For further information please call the CSP press office on 020 7306 1111, email pressoffice@csp.org.uk. Out of hours please call Becca Bryant, head of press and PR (job-share) on 079172 40819, Jennie Edmondson, head of press and PR (job share) on 07786 332197, or Jon Ryan, senior media adviser on 07917 091200.

**ENDS**

Notes to editors

1.       The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy is the UK’s professional, educational and trade union body. We have more than 51,000 members, including chartered physiotherapists, physiotherapy students and support workers.

2.       Statistics on the prevalence and cost of incontinence are taken from the CSP briefing, Physiotherapy works: urinary incontinence, which can be read here.

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