Tag Archives: continence

Tackling the taboos – Alex Cole-Hamilton leads Holyrood debate on incontinence

As we reported last month, Alex Cole-Hamilton brought a motion calling for a National Continence Strategy to the Scottish Parliament. It was debated yesterday. Here is Alex’s speech. He is pictured here with Elaine Miller, his constituent whose show Gusset Grippers highlighted the issue at this year’s Edinburgh Festival.

If we ask anyone in this chamber or beyond it what their top five fears of age or infirmity might be, we can be sure that the subject of this debate will sit right up there. However, I state from the outset that, if we, as legislators, assume that incontinence is a condition only of the old or infirm, we are mistaken and are part of the problem. I called for the debate because women and men of all ages suffer in silence. It is high time that they are made aware of, and given, treatment, support and—most important—hope.

Incontinence is still taboo. Patients are shy and embarrassed to talk about it or to seek medical help, and many of them assume that nothing can be done for them. This may be the first time that we have debated the problem with such a focus in the Parliament. I am glad that members from all parties are present today and are prepared to put aside our hang-ups on the issue and look collectively towards relatively straightforward solutions.

Here are the facts: one in three women and one in nine men leak urine. A remarkable 30 per cent of women who have given birth vaginally will have damage to their pelvic floor, while those who sustain a third or fourth-degree tear during childbirth are likely to have problems with faecal incontinence. Statistics show that incontinence has a bigger impact on a person’s quality of life than nearly any other condition, and a recent survey of those over the age of 60 and in hospital characterised incontinence as a fate worse than death.

We do not know the true cost to Scotland of incontinence, associated products and the causal impact on physical and mental health. However, in 2010, Australia made a stab at researching the scale of the problem. A study there examined the cost not only of sanitary wear, medication and surgery, but of dealing with the depression and anxiety that can arise from the condition. It amounted to $43 billion dollars annually, which is astronomical. Our two countries have similar societies and face similar health challenges, so we can extrapolate that to around £5,000 for every Scot with the condition every year.

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Alex Cole-Hamilton calls for continence strategy

When I was on holiday, I listened to an interesting article on Women’s Hour about a fringe show centred around pelvic floor exercises. It was both hilarious and mildly disturbing. And for a few days afterwards I was particularly diligent, as I expect many people were, before forgetting about it all again.

Elaine Miller, the person behind that show, wrote about it in the Guardian.

Anecdotally speaking, using humour as a health promotion tool works well. Proving that is tricky – the only established fact is that comedy is subjective, so, conducting a random controlled trial is fairly challenging. However, getting the public to comply with simple lifestyle changes and health behaviours has always been difficult, so, perhaps an irreverent approach is worth a shot?

Incontinence interferes with every single thing a person wants to do, and, helping someone to live a life unrestricted by their bodily functions is wonderfully satisfying, far more so than helping someone win a medal for being marginally faster than someone else. Being part of huge sports events was glamorous and fantastic, but, I am happiest on stage, at conference or in clinic proclaiming that that everyone deserves to have a decent pelvic floor.

Now it turns out that Elaine s a mate of Alex Cole-Hamilton’s and the two have teamed up to call for the Scottish Government to launch a National Continence Strategy. 

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