Action needed to address stark inequalities in care across UK pelvic floor services

28 April 2021

• New report exposes under-funding and under-resourcing of the UK’s pelvic floor services
• Recommendations on six key areas for change to improve outcomes for patients – “small changes will make a big impact”
• Pelvic floor and continence patients have been neglected for years, say experts

Bowel Research UK welcomes the findings of a new report which reveals significant short-comings in the care of UK patients with pelvic floor disorders (PFDs), and provides recommendations on six areas for change to improve outcomes.

PFDs are often considered a ‘cinderella’ condition, with people preferring not to talk about problems relating to continence. It is tragic that these conditions are often treatable, but because of a combination of stigma and long waiting times many patients suffer life-limiting consequences unnecessarily.

The report authors, including Bowel Research UK Trustee Prof Charles Knowles and Director of Research Lesley Booth, call for urgent action to improve treatment and access to surgery, highlighting that PFD patients have been neglected for years.

The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified pre-existing disparities in services, leading to significant delays in treatment access. However, it also offers opportunity to change models of care.

To address a lack of ‘joined-up’ services, the report offers national recommendations that call for health bodies and the Government to adopt changes, as well as local recommendations aimed at healthcare professionals working day-to-day with patients.

“Patients with pelvic floor disorders have been neglected since long before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

The pandemic has worsened patient waiting times across the whole NHS, but pelvic floor services were already at the bottom of the pile in terms of funding, treatment prioritisation and access to surgery,” says Professor Charles Knowles, Professor of Surgery at Barts Health NHS Trust and Bowel Research UK Trustee.

“Millions of people are suffering life-changing bladder and bowel problems that can, and should, be fixed. Our report puts forward six areas where small changes will make a big impact on services, enabling patients to receive the timely care they need.”

The proposed areas for change are:

  1. Educate patients, healthcare professionals and the public about PFDs and their treatment
  2. Use technology to improve patient care e.g., virtual consultations
  3. Integrate expertise across the country to ensure patients consistently receive expert care, from the community to the hospital
  4. Rethink surgical procedures and premises to free up operating theatre capacity
  5. Optimise collaboration among PFD specialists and make use of available skills e.g., nurse and allied health professional-led procedures
  6. Consider public-private partnerships to address capacity issues for surgery

‘Seizing the opportunity to improve patient care: Pelvic floor services in 2021 and beyond’ is launched by The Pelvic Floor Society and endorsed by 10 health professional societies and patient organisations.

Click here to read the report in full

Watch the video below as Trustee of Bowel Research UK, Professor of Surgery Charles Knowles, explains that patients with a pelvic floor disorder often wait years for treatment. This doesn’t have to be the case.