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Take back control: helping Somali women in Bristol get support for bladder and bowel issues

By 22nd June 2023June 26th, 2023No Comments

A campaign to support women in the Somali community who are experiencing bladder and bowel issues to seek help has been launched in Bristol.

This initiative by Sirona care & health and Bristol Health Partners’ Bladder and Bowel Confidence (BABCON) Health Integration Team (HIT) aims to improve support for people.

Bladder and bowel problems affect as many as one in three people in the UK, but people from some communities are less likely to seek help from their GP.

BABCON HIT secured NHS Charities Together funding to work with Sirona’s Health Links team to find out how access to continence services could be improved, particularly for Somali women in Bristol.

Sirona’s Health Links team invited Somali women to workshops in Inner-City and East Bristol to share what specific challenges they faced accessing support for incontinence, and how they could be better supported. These sessions included a Pelvic Health Physiotherapist giving information and guidance about the Bladder and Bowel Service.

Feedback showed stigma around bladder and bowel issues meant women were reluctant to discuss their problems with their GP, or even family and friends. They also highlighted practical concerns, such as a language barrier when an interpreter wasn’t available, and not having a clinic near to where they live.

The feedback led to an animation and leaflets specifically for women in the Somali community and it is linked to a dedicated clinic in East Bristol for all women.

The Sirona-run continence clinic at East Trees Health Centre is open on Mondays, staffed by female health professionals and has an interpreter available. Leaflets about the service in Somali and English have been given to all GP surgeries in Inner City and East Bristol areas as people must be referred by their GP.

Sirona and BABCON HIT commissioned the social media animation called Taking Back Control (available in English and Somali) to help address continence stigma within the Somali community, encouraging people to speak to their GP and then get help from the continence clinic.

Helen Oxenham, Advanced Clinical Practitioner with Sirona’s Bladder and Bowel Service, said: “We are very pleased to be able to offer a clinic to the people of Inner-City and East Bristol and hope that people from the Somali community, amongst others, will seek referrals to our service from their GP.”

Harjinder Kaur, Sirona’s Health Links Service Co-ordinator, said: “The project clearly identified common themes which outlined the challenges and barriers for Somali women affected by bladder and bowel incontinence issues. Access and communication were key barriers: due to language difficulties and English not being their first language, the community found it difficult and sometimes impossible to communicate with health professionals. Offering interpreters during health appointments will assist with communication, improve access and health outcomes and reduce health inequalities. Additionally, this project demonstrates the importance of engaging with communities and how doing so can transform and improve services.”

Nikki Cotterill, Professor of Continence Care at the University of the West of England and BABCON HIT director, added: “Bladder and bowel leakage is so difficult to talk about and we often don’t recognise where there are additional barriers to seeking help. We are delighted that this project will raise awareness and enable women in the Somali community to access help where they may not have previously.”

Sahra Muuse, the voiceover artist for the animation who has herself suffered from incontinence, said: “This service will help the community a lot. It will show them it’s time to do something for yourself. You might have put other people first all your life, but now this is something you have to do for yourself and for your health. This will make your life easier – even if you don’t speak English.”

“Knowing this can be solved… There is less pressure, I can feel comfortable I can go anywhere and do whatever I want without taking any precautions. I can feel free.”

Saada Jamal, another Somali woman who has suffered from incontinence and has attended one of the clinic’s group workshops, said: “The whole community will benefit from this. I don’t believe it’s embarrassing – it’s about your health. But if any women are shy, there are women to talk to.”