Tue 24, Sep 2019
Since 1989, the Continence Foundation of Australia has advocated for generations of Australians, providing awareness, education and information to achieve its vision of a community free from the stigma and restrictions of incontinence.
Just over thirty years ago there was growing concern about the way in which people with incontinence were able to find help, particularly older Australians who wanted to live longer independently in their homes.
A small group of passionate health professionals with the support of the Australian Council on the Ageing (ACOTA) met to discuss how they could collaborate to improve the standard of care for Australians living with incontinence.
A landmark national workshop followed, bringing together medical specialists, nurses, physiotherapists and representatives from industry, non-government organisations and government agencies to develop the first national strategy on incontinence.
Continence Foundation of Australia CEO Rowan Cockerell said the commitment of these early visionaries put incontinence on the health agenda for the first time.
“Importantly, this early work revealed that incontinence could no longer be considered a normal part of ageing – that incontinence was preventable, and our real focus should be promoting continence.”
Many of those involved in the early development of the Foundation have dedicated their working lives to helping improve the quality of life for Australians affected by incontinence.
Over three decades much has been achieved in advancing the cause of incontinence in Australia.
Australian Government support has enabled the Foundation to deliver world- class programs and a diverse range of projects to Australians who experience bladder and bowel problems.
One of the most important programs, the National Continence Helpline, was launched in 1999. The free service provides confidential advice about bladder and bowel control problems, local referrals and product information, as well as resources for consumers and clinicians. Specialist nurses and customer service officers have responded to more than four hundred thousand enquiries in the past 20 years.
The Helpline has also supported many thousands of Australians who have benefited from the Continence Aids Payment Scheme (CAPS) that assists eligible people who have permanent and severe incontinence meet some of the cost of their continence products.
Mrs Cockerell said raising awareness of continence management and treatment across all life stages has always been a key priority.
“We’ve conducted some memorable and at times cheeky campaigns over the years that have really made an impact and helped reduce stigma associated with incontinence.
“We’ve come a long way since the word ‘incontinence’ was first uttered on radio and we’ve participated in hundreds of interviews and articles across all media platforms.”
Digital technology has been embraced as a way to deliver awareness messages - starting with the launch of the Foundation’s first website in 2003. The Foundation now has multiple websites targeting different groups at risk of incontinence, as well as two popular apps.
Another key function of the Foundation is to support the continence workforce with membership, resources, education programs, scholarships and the annual National Conference on Incontinence (NCOI). The conference, established in 1987, is the premier Australian meeting for health professionals working in bladder, bowel and pelvic health.
Over the years, the Foundation has also created and distributed millions of resources to the public, health professionals and community organisations.
Supported by state branches and continence resource centres, health promotion officers have delivered more than one thousand presentations to community forums, conferences and expos, many in rural and remote areas.
The role of advocacy, particularly in relation to equal access to continence support services, is just as important today as in the past when the Foundation successfully led a campaign for a national funding subsidy for continence support products.
Foundation President, Associate Professor Michael Murray AM, said the organisation is proud of its considerable achievements over three decades.
“Working with health professionals, industry and with the support of the Australian Government, the Foundation has improved the lives of people with incontinence and their carers.
“With growing incidence of chronic illness and an ageing population, it is inevitable that more people will experience incontinence and require care.
“With ongoing support, the Foundation will continue to provide a comprehensive approach to continence management and improve the quality of life for Australians with bladder and bowel problems and pelvic floor dysfunction.”
This story was first published in Bridge Magazine. Subscribe to Bridge online.