Tuesday, October 20, 1998 Published at 12:43 GMT 13:43 UK
Incontinence supplies dry up
People are being asked to recycle incontinence supplies
Many patients are being denied incontinence supplies because the NHS simply cannot afford them, BBC Social Affairs Editor Niall Dickson reports.
Incontinent patients are waiting for months for supplies of hygienic pads following a government clampdown on VAT payments.
Experts have warned that the lack of supplies could endanger some patients.
Andrew Russell, director of the Association for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus, said: "Poor service is dangerous as well as undignified. It can present dangers to kidney function, risk of infection and risk of pressure sores. Trusts are introducing what we see as arbitrary criteria."
Ministers decided to close a loophole that allowed NHS trusts to avoid paying VAT on incontinence supplies. The decision cut funds for an already stretched service even further.
Dr Michael Blackmore, a Dorset GP, said: "The waiting list for continence supplies has gone up from about two weeks at the end of last year. Now it is five months.
"This is entirely because the budget has effectively been reduced by 15% because the trust now has to pay VAT on supplies to patients."
A general shortage of funding has led to patients across the country being denied incontinence products:
Rachel Johnson has a four-year-old son Matthew, who has spina bifida and is doubly incontinent.
The NHS in Peterborough, where the family lives, used to provide nappies for disabled children from the age of three, but has now decided Matthew cannot have supplies until he is five.
As a result, Rachel - who is on benefit - has to spend much of her weekly income on incontinence supplies for her son.
She said: "I was pretty mad because Matthew does not fit into conventional nappies anymore, so I have got no choice but to order them and they are very expensive.
"My son was born with this condition, he needs nappies as much as he needs medicines. It is just not fair that we have to pay a fortune."
Alison Bardsley, of the trust, admitted that the cost of washing the pads might prove too much for some patients.
She said: "The trust accepts there are individual cases and does take that into account, but unfortunately we have to keep within our budgets as well."
Ministers have ordered a review of incontinence services. The results should be published next year.