Bladder and bowel conditions are very common in the UK, affecting more than one in five people – and yet it is not a subject openly talked about. More common than hay fever, we know that symptoms can significantly affect everyday lives.
The West of England Academic Health Science Network (AHSN) has developed the Voices for Change project – part of its Create Open Health open innovation programme – in partnership with our Bladder and Bowel Confidence Health Integration Team (BABCON HIT), and Disruptive Thinking.
Its purpose is to give a voice to those people affected by bladder and bowel control issues, to understand the challenges faced by those living with the condition or caring for someone who does. The project’s long-term aim is to open up conversations about what can be a very sensitive topic, and lay the groundwork to initiate positive, meaningful and enduring change, with the potential to make a real difference to people’s lives.
As with any healthcare challenge, the starting point is always in thoroughly understanding the problems to be able to clearly articulate the needs.
During the discovery phase, we reached out to people with bladder and bowel control issues, as well as those caring for them, to gather valuable insight from those with lived experience. We especially wanted to hear from people who are disproportionately affected and from under-represented groups, and we offered an inclusive and accessible approach for information gathering.
The key insights and learnings from the discovery phase have been collated into a report.
The report explores many of the challenges faced by those living with bladder and bowel conditions, or caring for someone who does, drawing out problem statements that lead to the identification of six key themes:
The report also features expert reflections on the insights gathered from people with lived experience. We have built on these reflections to identify six action points for healthcare providers, commissioners, researchers, innovators and local government to consider – suggesting improvements to existing information, services and pathways and guiding thinking around developing or identifying innovative healthcare solutions.
Alison Tavaré, GP and Clinical Lead at the West of England AHSN, said:
“As clinicians we should create opportunities for sensitive conversations about bladder and bowel incontinence. By doing this we can work with our patients and other colleagues to find practical solutions to embarrassing situations, and so enable our patients to face life with greater confidence.”
For information, signposting and confidential support, we would like to highlight the national helplines provided by:
BABCON HIT offers a free app which provides education and advice to help people to understand their symptoms and try out things that might help. The CONfidence app provides practical help at your fingertips. It brings together trusted and reliable information, informed by people with lived experience and national experts providing specialist bladder and bowel care. Find out more about the app and download it to your iPhone or Android phone.
BABCON HIT recently published collaborative research with HealthWatch Bristol examining how the COVID-19 pandemic affected people’s experiences of bladder and bowel services. Read ‘User Experiences of Bladder & Bowel Services during the Pandemic’ report.
Disruptive Thinking is a business consultancy providing programme delivery in innovative sectors including digital, media and tech startups.
The Voices for Change project is the second run of the West of England AHSN’s Create Open Health programme, which was established in 2019. The programme’s first run focussed on solutions to help build resilience in young people to support their mental health. Read more about this work