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Spotlighting continence needs – Sarah Elliott

In the first of a series of blogs to mark World Continence Week, the Regional Chief Nurse for NHS England in the South examines the work being done to support commissioners and providers to give excellent continence care:

The Five Year Forward View set us a challenge of refocusing healthcare to prevent ill health and provide people with greater control over their condition and care.

It also encourages much greater collaboration between health and social care, working in partnership with the third sector – that includes voluntary and charity groups – and ensuring we maximise the value of resources we spend on healthcare.

This vision underpins what we want to achieve for people living with continence needs who, in the past, have often suffered in silence as higher profile conditions attracted attention and resource.

Problems with the bladder affect more than 14 million people in the UK and 6.5 million have bowel problems. It is also estimated 900,000 children and young people are affected.

June 20 to 26 June marks World Continence Week, putting a spotlight on this healthcare challenge.

Over the years, some excellent research and guidelines have been produced for best practice continence care. But this work has often stalled as it has not translated into a clear commissioning plan for a local continence pathway.

In November 2015 we published the Excellence in Continence Care guidance. It provides a framework that enables commissioners to work in collaboration with providers and others to make a step change to address these shortfalls so that safe, dignified, efficient and effective continence care is consistently provided. Clinical experts in bladder and bowel, patient advocates and representatives from national charities and third sector bodies have worked as one, under the leadership of NHS England, to agree the guidance.

Throughout this week we will be sharing stories on our website from patients about their experience of continence care, and hearing from staff working in the NHS about work that is happening across the country to improve care for people with continence issues.

I know that locally, a number of NHS organisations will also be using the week to raise awareness in their area. WeNurses will be hosting a Twitter chat on Tuesday 21 June at 8pm so please do consider joining the conversation using #cathetercare.

World Continence Week is a great opportunity to recognise what’s working well and to build on this, recognising that we need to support professionals and individuals with continence issues in knowing how to source help, access resources and what standards can be achieved; we need to raise the standards of continence care and outcomes and experiences for people; and work in partnership to support people to self-manage and live independently with personal dignity.

Now is the opportunity to be part of a social movement to bring about the changes we need to see that will deliver excellence in continence care services and guide people to the help they need to manage their bladder and bowel problems.

Moving forward, NHS England will be working with commissioners and providers to help them implement the framework so we can bring about the beginning of system-wide improvements in the provision of continence care across the country.


Sarah ElliottSarah Elliott was appointed as the Regional Chief Nurse for NHS England (South) from 1 April 2014 and also leads a number of national commissioning work streams including continence.

Following qualification, Sarah practiced as a nurse in a range of hospital settings including intensive care. She later developed an interest in health promotion and public health and trained as a Health Visitor and Practice Teacher in Brighton.

She has held several Director of Nursing posts in a number of organisations within the South in community/mental health Trusts and commissioning organisations.

In addition to leading the agenda for commissioning for quality and safety in NHS services across the south, Sarah has initiated multiple patient and public involvement activities.

Alongside her professional working life, Sarah has undertaken voluntary work with Youth Offending teams and the Alzheimers Society. She is also an accredited coach and special advisor to the CQC.

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2 comments

  1. Alison Wardley says:

    Thank you for raising the profile and encouraging us to break down barriers for people to get early support in managing their continence effectively.
    Even the simplest measures can make the biggest difference to peoples lives. To see the emotional burden lift when people feel safe to talk, knowing they’ve been listened to is just a start, but such a huge step towards feeling better!

  2. Jacqueline.Emkes says:

    Thank you Sarah for this timely reminder of the many people silently suffering with bowel and or bladder issues. A topic too embarrassing to discuss but as I now know affects so many. I would urge everyone to read the Excellence In Continence Care Guide. It is a very accessible document written by experts in their field but in language we non-clinicians can understand. With this reliable relevant knowledge we can work out how to access better appropriate care. Let’s break the taboo. #ItsPersonal You never know it could be you or someone close to you.