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Russell Atkinson, community specialist nurse, shares what it’s like working in our continence service and the life changing difference it can make to patients.

Tuesday, 10 August, 2021
Russell Atkinson, community specialist nurse, shares what it’s like working in our continence service and the life changing difference it can make to patients.

I have worked as a continence specialist nurse since September 2014. Prior to that I worked in the urology department at the Freeman hospital for fifteen years.


The continence service supports adults and children in all parts of Northumberland and North Tyneside.


Having issues with bladder and bowel control can have a devastating effect on the patient affecting their psychological wellbeing, their working life, their social life and family life and it is a privilege to work with them and provide support, treatment and advice.


The focus of continence care is not just the provision of pads despite public perception. Assessment, diagnosis and treatment of the problem is essential. Patients often wait for years before asking for help as they are so embarrassed or they may find their own method of managing by planning days out around access to public toilet or not going out of the house at all.


Many people feel that continence issues are inevitable following childbirth or as a person ages but this is not the case as many issues can be cured or improved with effective continence care and support.


As an adult continence specialist nurse, I provide continence assessment and treatment clinics for clients with complex continence issues who have conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease, but I also carry out home visits for those who are unable to attend a clinic.


I identify the continence issue following a comprehensive assessment and create individual treatment programmes with the patient as well as providing continued support and follow up. Often treatment programmes include very simple lifestyle interventions and changes, starting with diet and fluid intake reviews, bladder retraining, pelvic floor exercise regimes or they can be more invasive treatments such as intermittent catheterisation.


For some patient’s effective management of their condition is their main objective. This can be achieved using products such as washable or disposable containment pads, body-worn devices such as sheaths, or urinals with the aim of enabling the patient to live their lives and manage the issue as discretely as possible. These products can be used for a short period until treatment programmes start to take effect or for some patients, they may require the use of these devices long term.


My role is very varied as well as running clinics and home visits, I deliver and help develop training programmes and work alongside other NHS trusts on local continence initiatives. Audits and research are a big part of my role. The service is also involved in two research studies including the Catheter II research looking at bladder maintenance solutions and the SPEAC study looking at attitude and education around continence care.


I am the Education Lead for the service, and manage two-week student placements with the service with excellent student feedback which I’m very proud to be part of.


I really enjoy my job and feel very proud that my patients trust and value our support with something as sensitive and personal as their bladder and bowel issues. Having previously worked in a hospital, where you discharge a patient and never see them again. In this service, that is not the case. You can see some patients over several years and hence develop very good relationships with them.


To find out more about continence care click here.