Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point
On Air
Low Graphics

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:

  • In Coventry, supplies are only given to people with physical or learning disabilities, people who are doubly incontinent, or those who are dying;
  • In Bolton, there is a wait for supplies of more than a year;
  • In Plymouth, only those who qualify for disability living allowance receive supplies.

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."

Re-usable supplies

[ image: Even nappies are rationed]
Even nappies are rationed
Oxford Community Trust has started supplying only re-usable incontinence pads.

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.

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©

Health Contents

Background Briefings
Medical notes

Relevant Stories

02 Sep 98 | Health
Government orders incontinence services review

Internet Links

Association for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus

Incontinence Net

Department of Health

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

In this section

Disability in depth

Spotlight: Bristol inquiry

Antibiotics: A fading wonder

Mental health: An overview

Alternative medicine: A growth industry

The meningitis files

Long-term care: A special report

Aids up close

From cradle to grave

NHS reforms: A guide

NHS Performance 1999

From Special Report
NHS in crisis: Special report

British Medical Association conference '99

Royal College of Nursing conference '99