Are Pad Manufacturers Costing Us Our Dignity and the NHS Millions?
We’re all familiar with the laughing women, dancing women, and oops moments that build a pad advertisement. They all serve to make incontinence appear as a normal part of ageing. But is it?
Of course not!
These adverts for pads (essentially adult diapers) encourage women to settle for a lifetime of incontinence when better treatments are readily available.
Is Incontinence Normal?
Incontinence is “common in women, but that doesn’t mean it’s normal” – Tamara Bavendam, Urologist.
The incontinence adverts that we watch on the TV or read in magazines are beneficial in the way that they’ve shone a spotlight on incontinence, forcing it out of taboo shadows. However, they have the habit of conditioning the public to view incontinence as a regular life event, decreasing the likelihood of women seeking care for their problems.
"Leaking is common but never normal and I'm pleased that Kegel8 are doing so much outreach to spread the word that people should not put up with symptoms. The more of us who talk about these problems, and the solutions, the quicker we can burst the taboo and encourage people to see their GP or pelvic physiotherapist for help." - Elaine Miller, Physiotherapist.
How Does Incontinence Affect the NHS?
Many people can, and do, receive incontinence products on behalf of the NHS. Incontinence pads and devices are available depending on your local NHS organisation. To qualify, you will need to be assessed, start a treatment plan, and meet criteria set out by your Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG). The assessment may involve keeping a bladder diary for 3 days so that your healthcare provider can understand the severity of your incontinence issues.
NHS incontinence products include:
- Incontinence pads and pants
- Bed and chair protection
- Catheters and penile sheaths
- Skin care and hygiene products
- Specially adapted clothing and swimwear
Incontinence pads are the most popular form of incontinence product. They use the same technology as baby nappies, such as a hydrophobic layer which draws urine away from the surface of the pad, meaning the skin stays dry. Despite this waterproof layer, one study by Omri et al associated an increased risk of developing a UTI with the use of absorbent pads.
Depending on the severity, it may be possible to treat the cause of your incontinence (e.g. through pelvic floor exercises), and you may not require incontinence products at all.
How Much Does Incontinence Cost?
Whether you buy your own incontinence products, or receive them for free, incontinence sales are extremely high. In 1999, dealing with incontinence cost the NHS around £80 million per year in product costs. More recently, annual spending associated with urinary incontinence in the UK varied from £233 million for direct NHS costs, to £818 million for total societal costs (products bought by the consumer). On average, women with severe urinary incontinence pay an estimated of £700 annually for incontinence routine care.
With an ageing population this is likely to worsen, as the number of incontinence sufferers will simulataneously increase. By 2033, 23% of the population will be aged 65 and over. Over the past three years, incontinence has seen a 9% increase in patient numbers, this is likely to increase further in response to the ageing population.
How Can You Improve Your Incontinence?
Although many women with stress urinary incontinence choose to manage the problem by avoiding triggers and using absorbent pads, only 15% will seek a solution.
There are a variety of ways for you to improve your incontinence through the condition of your pelvic floor. Your pelvic floor is essential for bladder control; a weak pelvic floor can lead to the development of urinary stress incontinence, urge incontinence, and an overactive bladder.
The best way to strengthen your pelvic floor is through Kegel (pelvic floor) exercises. To learn more about exercising your pelvic floor muscles, click here. If you’re struggling to perform your Kegel exercises, or can’t feel the benefits, try using a biofeedback tool to discover your exercise effectiveness. Alternatively, an electronic toner can do all the work for you, stimulating 90% of your pelvic floor muscles (compared to 40% stimulation from manual exercises).
 Baum, N., Suarez G., Appell, RA. (1991) Urinary Incontinence: Not a ‘Normal’ Part of Aging. Journal of Postgraduate Medicine. 90(2), pp. 107-109.
 NHS (2015) Can I Get Incontinence Products on the NHS? [online]. NHS [accessed 15/08/2018]. Available from https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/nhs-services-and-treatments/can-i-get-incontinence-products-on-the-nhs/
 NHS (2016) Incontinence Products [online]. NHS [accessed 15/08/2018]. Available from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/urinary-incontinence/incontinence-products/
 NHS Supply Chain (2010) Improving the Supply of Continence Products to Patients [online]. DHL Supply Chain [accessed 15/08/2018]. Available from https://www.supplychain.nhs.uk/news/press-releases/2010/improving-supply-of-continence-products/
 Office for National Statistics (2009) Ageing: Fastest Increase in the oldest old. Office for National Statistics. Available from: http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?ID=949
 Omli, R., et al. (2010) Pad per day usage, urinary incontinence and urinary tract infections in nursing home residents. Age and Ageing. 39(5), pp. 549-554.
 Papanicolaou, S., et al. (2005) Medical Resource Utilisation and Cost of Care for Women Seeking Treatment for Urinary Incontinence in an Outpatient Setting. Maturitas. 52(Suppl 2).
 Shaw, C., Das Gupta, R., Williams, KS., et al. (2006) A Survey of Help-Seeking and Treatment Provision in Women with Stress Urinary Incontinence. BJU International. 97(4), pp. 752-757.
 Subak, L., et al. (2006) The “Costs” of Urinary Incontinence for Women. Obstetrics and Gynecology. 107(4), pp. 908-916.
 Turner, DA., et al. (2004) The Cost of Clinically Significant Urinary Storage Symptoms for Community Dwelling Adults in the UK. BJU International. 93(9), pp. 1246-1252.