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Helpline 0800 650 659 continence nz

Community Education

Meet our Continence Educator, Janet Thackray.

You’d be lucky to find anyone more passionate and knowledgeable about continence than our Continence Educator Janet Thackray. The experienced nurse travels up and down the country informing people from all walks of life about bladder and bowel health – and it’s her dream job.

That’s because she wants to get incontinence out of hushed whispers and into everyday conversation.

Janet will immediately put you at ease with her humour and relaxed approach. She cuts effortlessly though the embarrassment and shame that prevent so many people from even talking about leaking bladders and bowels - never mind asking for the help they need and deserve.

The born and raised Brit started off as a general nurse in the UK, then trained as a midwife, before moving into accident and emergency nursing, and ultimately working as a community nurse. She then moved into the field of continence and had the unusual job of visiting men in their homes and fitting them with rubber continence appliances – you can imagine the conversations.

Then, 21 years ago, she emigrated to New Zealand and has worked here as a Continence Nurse Specialist before joining the Continence New Zealand team two years ago.

She was initially given a three-month role for a pilot study on whether there was a need for community education, and the initiative “just took off”.

“It was phenomenal,” Janet says. “There was such a need out there … I was just swamped.”

Now based in Tauranga after a move from Auckland, she’s travelling the country working with a wide range of community groups - including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, MS and Stroke groups – while also educating at Rest Homes and Hospices. The IHC Foundation kindly provided funding for Janet to work with disability groups during 2017, and funding from Lotteries will mean that Janet can continue her work around the country for the next two years.

As it’s only partially funded by the Ministry of Health, Continence NZ works hard to secure additional funding to ensure that Janet can keep up her community education.  It’s important work.

Janet covers bladder and bowel management and the pads and products which are available. She also whips out some “interesting, antique devices”.

“It’s all about education. I like my sessions to be informative and practical with a few laughs. To encourage people to talk about incontinence. I try to stick to a plan but prefer to be guided by what each group wants to hear. Different groups have different problems so we end up talking about things pertinent to them,” she explains.

“It’s very flexible, very variable, every talk’s different depending on the points raised. I try and make it a safe environment.”               

Janet finds people are quickly brave in opening up and what they say, “they’ve never seen a doctor yet they’ll talk about an embarrasing subject in front of their colleagues or complete strangers, which is amazing,” she remarks.

“Also if you introduce humour it takes away the stress and anxiety of incontinence, which makes a big difference. And I talk about my prolapse, and it gives them permission to talk about theirs and what they can do about it.”

She also makes herself available before and after the sessions for people to come and chat to. “I always stay around afterwards – and sometimes there’s a little queue!” she laughs. “I end up with a little cluster around me and give them on the spot advice and can tell them what to do and where to get help.

“I also give them my number for a confidential chat. Sadly, on numerous occasions some people have suffered in silence for as long as, in one case, 30 years, and never told anyone.”

Janet says incontinence is a symptom, not a diagnosis, and the important step is to find out the cause.

“I always say if you don’t take anything else away with you, remember that incontinence is not normal. There’s something wrong. And you have to get help. The help is there, but you have to go and ask for it.”

One thing she has noticed is people being held back from simple solutions because they have been misinformed. For example when she speaks to older women’s groups there can be as many as two thirds of the audience with incontinence issues.

“A lot of them have been told in their 30s ‘you’re going to be like this for the rest of your life’. But things have changed. Even if you are 80 there are treatments that can help.”

“And it’s heartbreaking when they’ve been incontinent for 40 or 50 years and have been paying for pads all that time, when a $60 vaginal pessary could fix the problem.

That’s a small device made of silicone which can support a woman’s pelvic organs, treating pelvic organ prolapse and urinary incontinence.

“Any leakage is abnormal,” is Janet’s mantra. “Even if it’s only a tablespoon, that is abnormal. You need to nip that in the bud before it becomes a cupful,” she urges.

“If you have incontinence see your GP to get a referral to the Continence Nursing Service, a urogynaecologist, or a pelvic floor specialist physiotherapist. Get expert help, a one-off visit may be all that you need.”

And you don’t need to be embarrassed. “People are embarrassed to show their bottoms to doctors, but when you work in this field one orifice is the same as every other orifice. Whether it’s your nose, your mouth, your anus or your vagina.”

That’s a line which makes people at her education sessions giggle, as you can well imagine.

“I just love my job. I absolutely love it. Out of all the nursing I’ve done, being able to help people with incontinence, as much as I have with this, has been the most rewarding. Even above delivering babies – because sometimes it’s a very simple thing such as adjusting fluid intake to solve the problem.

“It’s heartbreaking to meet such a wide range of people who are desperate for someone to talk to about the issues they are having. They always say, ‘you’re the first person who’s ever listened to me’. It’s such a privilege. I’ll be doing this until they kick me out,” she laughs.

If you’d like to book a fun and informative session with Janet you can do so by completing the registration of interest form.

If you need continence advice, call our free helpline on 0800 650 659

Please complete the Registration of Interest form here >>