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Tens of thousands of pregnant women and new mums will receive support to prevent and treat incontinence and other pelvic floor issues, thanks to new clinics set up by the NHS.
The new services will be initially rolled out in 14 areas of the country with up to 175,000 women set to benefit from the additional support every year.
Clinics will offer a one stop shop for women with symptoms, bringing together midwives, specialist doctors and specialist physiotherapists under one roof.
Every woman receiving maternity care in the pilot sites will be able to access the service throughout their pregnancy, which includes providing exercises that can help to prevent problems from developing in the first place.
Physiotherapists can teach women how to exercise pelvic floor muscles correctly, give advice on diet and fluid intake as well as helping women to monitor their progress.
There will be an option to self refer so that women don’t feel embarrassed seeking help in addition to GPs being able to refer patients for help.
Clinics will also provide training and support for local clinicians who are working with women, including GPs and midwives.
Research shows that one in three women experience urinary incontinence in the first year after having a baby and up to three quarters of these women continue to experience this in the following 12 years after giving birth.
A further one in 10 women experience faecal incontinence and another one in 12 will have a pelvic organ prolapse.
The support is part of the NHS Long Term Plan’s commitment to improve the prevention, identification and treatment of pelvic floor dysfunction, so that fewer women experience ongoing issues after giving birth and later in life.
Services will be expanded following the initial trials and will be available to women in every part of the country by March 2024.
Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, NHS England’s Chief Midwifery Officer, said: “We know many women don’t report issues with incontinence because they are embarrassed about seeking help. Bringing together experts in pelvic health in one place will offer women a way of seeking help quickly and easily, as well as sending the message that postnatal incontinence is nothing to be ashamed of and can be treated.
“We all have a duty to share evidence-based messages – including that incontinence products are, primarily, a temporary support, and women with incontinence should seek medical support. We must make sure that these messages are reinforced wherever possible, and not contradicted.”
“Our message to women is that issues like incontinence are preventable and treatable and that the NHS is there for them if they need support, including at these 14 new sites.”
Emma Crookes, 34, from Barnsley, experienced life-changing incontinence during pregnancy and after giving birth to both her children and said: “Having my children is wonderful but the incontinence I suffered was horrendous – mentally and physically. I was too embarrassed to tell my midwife, but I couldn’t leave the house because of the pain and inconvenience and my partner had to take time off work to support me. I had no idea I could get medical help for it – all the adverts for pads on TV make it seem like you just have to put up with it and my friends thought the same, they just said it was a normal part of having kids.
“I spent a small fortune on pads before I sought help and got a personalised care plan from NHS specialists. These new clinics for women to get the support I got, in one place, will make a difference to so many people like me.”
The pilot services are in:
- Birmingham and Solihull
- Bristol, North Somerset, South Gloucestershire
- Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly
- Herefordshire and Worcestershire
- Hertfordshire and West Essex
- Lancashire and South Cumbria
- Norfolk and Waveney
- North West London
- Shrewsbury, Telford and Wrekin
- South East London
- Suffolk and North East Essex