Jim Shannon MP: Breaking the stigma and supporting those living with urinary incontinence

Jim Shannon is a DUP MP Strangford, and the party spokesperson for Health and Social Care

Between 3 and 6 million people in the UK have some degree of urinary incontinence, and prior to the pandemic, urinary tract infections (UTIs) were the largest cause of unplanned admissions into acute care. From 21st-27th June was World Continence Week (WCW), which is an international health campaign with the aim of raising awareness of incontinence related issues.

The urology industry is one of the largest health product suppliers to patients, via the NHS. Demand for urological products is expected to rise over the next decade, in part because of the UK’s ageing population, and the bladder and bowel complications which may develop as people get older. High quality urology appliances allow users to manage their conditions, maintaining their quality of life and allowing them independence and avoiding repeated medical consultations.

Manufacturers and suppliers of urology products have already demonstrated their resilience in being able to cope with an increase in demand. During the pandemic, suppliers of continence products worked behind the scenes to reduce the burden on the NHS, by bringing in much needed capacity, so helping hundreds of thousands of patients across the country. With CCGs, NHS Trusts and other health organisations putting virtually all of their resources and attention towards stopping the virus, hundreds of thousands of patients all over the UK have still been able to receive their catheters, sheaths and stoma pouches as a result of the work done by Dispensing Appliance Contractors (DACs) in helping to liaise with nurses, arrange prescriptions, deliver products and answer any questions a patient might have.

However, the sector and urology device users currently face a number of challenges, including the threat of patients having to wash and re-use catheters because of the current moves against single-use plastics, as well as a reduction in patient choice through the introduction of local formularies which can in practice restrict the range of products available for prescriptions by medical practitioners.

We already know that the Government is planning to implement the biggest reforms to the NHS of the past decade, with the publication of the Health and Care Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech expected imminently. It is absolutely vital that the Government and Parliamentarians address these outstanding challenges, listens to the voice of the voice urology sector, and ensures that patients are not placed at adverse risk by ill-advised policy decisions.

The Government hopes to implement these major changes to the NHS by April 2022, but having not had its first reading, the details of the Health and Care Bill remain unclear. We know the objectives include strengthening integration, reducing bureaucracy and improving accountability, and one of the key proposals are putting integrated care systems (ICSs) on a statutory footing. Yet the detail on what these new ICS’ will look like, and how they might commission, administer and deliver healthcare, is still unknown. Similarly, a leak from the Department of Health and Social Care in April revealed plans to set up a new MedTech Directorate, with the aim of taking effective MedTech procurement seriously. Yet we are still unaware of the remit and priorities of the MedTech Directorate and how it’s success will be measured.  It is crucial that this new group operates effectively, and that urinary device development and innovation continue to be encouraged so, as to improve patients’ quality of life and longevity.

To mark the occasion of WCW, I tabled an Early Day Motion (No: 238), to raise awareness of these issues. If you are an MP, I would encourage you to add your name and show your support.

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