New Awareness Campaign to Help Reduce Hospital Admissions for Urinary Tract Infections

A new campaign from NHS England and the UKHSA aims to raise awareness about the prevalence and risks of urinary tract infections (UTIs), particularly among older people and carers, and to reduce hospital admissions related to UTIs.

The campaign offers advice on preventive measures. It emphasizes the importance of staying hydrated, going to the toilet as soon as the need arises, and maintaining hygiene in the genital area. Resources, including posters, are being made available to healthcare services, charities, royal colleges, and care homes to disseminate this information as widely as possible.

The guidance comes ahead of a potentially busy winter season for the NHS, a time when the health service is usually under increased pressure. As part of a larger effort to manage healthcare resources, the campaign encourages the use of alternative services like NHS 111, community pharmacists, and urgent care walk-in centres for less critical cases. This is in line with the broader NHS plan of expanding out-of-hospital care options, including “hospital at home” services and urgent community response teams.

UTIs are particularly dangerous for older adults. Prompt action and early treatment are stressed as critical for managing UTIs and preventing severe outcomes like sepsis or death.

The campaign is part of a larger effort to prepare for increased demand during the winter months and aims to improve public awareness and self-care measures to reduce the need for hospital admissions.

What issues do NHS clinicians need to consider in using this guidance?

1. It is more difficult to diagnose UTIs in older people. Younger people (who will nearly all be women) will usually present with the “classical” symptoms of  UTI – such as frequency, dysuria, urgency and haematuria. Older people can have these symptoms but they can also present with problems such as confusion, agitation, functional decline or lethargy where there is a large overlap with other conditions; making diagnosis more challenging.

2. Another challenge in older people is that some will have asymptomatic bacteriuria (i.e. bacteria in the urine that are not causing problems). When the bacteria are detected, doctors will often treat the patient with antibiotics when the medication may not be needed.

3. Spotting infections early requires knowledge of the symptoms and signs and how these differ in younger and older people. There is also a need to be aware of the complications of UTIs such as sepsis or pyelonephritis and to treat these early.

4. Doctors and patients need to balance the benefits of early diagnosis treatment with the risks of overtreatment with antibiotics. Not all UTIs need antibiotic treatment and some may resolve without it. Overuse of antibiotics contributes to antibiotic resistance as well as putting patients at risk of side effects.

5. Finally, these kind of single issue campaigns will be of limited value unless there is adequate capacity in the NHS for patients to be assessed promptly. Otherwise, patients will end up waiting a long time for appointments with the risk their condition may worsen while waiting for treatment.