A health campaigner who has undergone 14 operations in 10 years has backed new support for catheter users as part of an effort to combat avoidable infections.
Inspirational Anna Cooper said the special passport offered by Betsi Cadwaladr would enhance communication and catheter care for almost 2,000 people who rely on the devices throughout North Wales.
The 28-year-old, from Wrexham, had an in-dwelling catheter for nearly two years as a result of treatment linked to widespread endometriosis.
The new passport includes important information for the user, their loved ones, healthcare staff and carers – including details of the purpose for the device and how to look after it.
Health board staff aim to reduce preventable catheter-associated urinary tract infections (CAUTIs) by helping ensure the devices are used appropriately.
Catheters are often used when people have difficulty urinating naturally, or are undergoing procedures in hospital.
But the devices can provide a route for infection to enter the body and require both regular changes and careful management. The new approach will ensure catheters are used safely and only by people who really need them.
Anna – who also uses a stoma bag, is an ambassador for Endometriosis UK and runs her own menstrual health support group on Instagram – said she has benefitted from great care from local district nurses following specialist surgery in Liverpool.
“I know a lot of people find having a catheter difficult, so having this booklet and more information will be so helpful,” she said.
“When I started to use a catheter, I had no idea – I was given some bags, but didn’t really know how to use them. I didn’t know how to use it and was probably introducing infection without knowing it.
“There’s massive stigma about it. People often think that catheters are just for older people when they are not. And even when they are used by older people then they should still be able to use them safely and comfortably.
“I remember getting home and thinking I didn’t know how to look after this thing. It so important that when people are being discharged with catheters they are discharged with the best information about how to care for them and for themselves.”
Hospital staff will also consider removing catheters every few hours where inpatients no longer meet the criteria to use one. And, where possible, users in the community will be encouraged to give up their catheters for a trial period to see if they can manage without them.
Deputy Head of Community Nursing for the Betsi Cadwaladr’s East area Kristy Ross said catheters should only be used where absolutely necessary.
“Our CAUTI project seeks to ensure that only people who really need in-dwelling catheters have them fitted, to make sure that every catheter has a reason to be in place, and to provide better information about how to care for them,” she said.
“We want to reduce instances of catheter-associated infections which can make people seriously unwell, and reduce the use of the antibiotics needed to treat these preventable infections.”
The initiative forms part of the health board’s Safe Clean Care – Harm Free programme, which focuses on reducing instances of healthcare-acquired illness.
Out of Hours GP Dr Jennifer Ellis is a passionate advocate for people who use catheters. Issues with or caused by the devices are one of the biggest reasons for calls to out-of-hours services.
“Catheters have been a bit taboo and aren’t really spoken about, but it shouldn’t be like that,” she said. “When they are used and cared for appropriately, catheters empower people to take control of their lives and retain their dignity.
“But when not used properly, or when they are not appropriately cared for, problems with catheters can lead to infections which can be dangerous and ultimately potentially fatal.
“Removing catheters when we can – and providing better information for catheter users and the people who care for them – will help to prevent illness and discomfort, and ensure our patients can enjoy the best possible quality of life.”
The passports will be launched at Betsi Cadwaladr’s acute hospitals and rolled out to all people who use catheters across the region over the coming weeks and months.