14 Million Delay Visiting GP due to Embarrassment

Check for Change campaign aims to break the stigma of ‘bathroom health’

Originally published on: December 14th, 2021. Last modified on March 24th, 2022

A new campaign called ‘Check for Change’ has been launched by Essity, a global health and hygiene organisation to break down the stigma around ‘bathroom’ health. That is, any health condition that involves our genitourinary, reproductive or bowel health, but not limited to that. The ‘Check for Change’ campaign encourages us to check for any unusual changes in our ‘bathroom’ health and open up about these so we can get prompt treatment.

The research undertaken by Essity and other health partners such as NHS Bladder and Bowel Clinics shows that there is embarrassment and lack of understanding surrounding these issues and these barriers need breaking down so that people seek help sooner. 


Key survey findings

Some key findings from their survey include the following:

  • Over a quarter of survey respondents (26%) have delayed visiting their doctor over something they consider to be embarrassing, equating to nearly 14 million people
  • More than a fifth (21%) have delayed visiting their GP before, to later be diagnosed with a health condition, which could have been diagnosed earlier. 
  • On average, the public delay speaking to their GP for 27 days, whilst more than one in ten (12%) have delayed this for 2 years.
  • Despite also being taboo subjects, the public are twice as likely to be embarrassed to admit having wet or defecated themselves (46%) compared to admitting being in debt (23%) or struggling with mental health (20%).

These findings reveal an alarming trend in people not seeking treatment for conditions that could either be easily treated or even delayed treatment for serious health concerns such as cancer.

Embarrassment remains a barrier

Patients are now seeking helps in new ways, such as using the internet but not always from reliable sources or as soon as they should.

Patients experiencing symptoms related to their genitourinary, reproductive and bowel health for over a week, beyond visiting their GP, are most likely to:

  • speak to a GP over the phone (28%)
  • use the internet to research their symptoms (21%)
  • seek information from the NHS website (20%)
  • or call 111 (9%)

Furthermore, 45% of respondents report that they ‘often’ self-diagnose whether symptoms are serious or not based on online resources (e.g., the NHS website, WedMD). 

Seeking help could be made less embarrassing by having the right information signposted online, or by encouraging healthcare professionals to open a dialogue about bathroom health during routine appointments. This is important in combating the issue around bathroom health.

It is also important to ensure people know that it is okay to contact your GP, even during pandemic times to discuss any changes in your bladder, bowel or sexual health so that the right treatment can be given.

Celebrity NHS Doctor, Dr Emily McDonagh says,

“I am really excited to be involved in the Check for Change campaign with Essity. Looking at the research, it’s clear that there is a big issue with people feeling embarrassed about speaking to a doctor about their bodies – particularly when it comes to bathroom-related issues.

Essity’s Check for Change campaign is something I feel passionate about: reassuring people that they do not need to be embarrassed about anything to do with their health can help us catch issues early. That is what medical professionals are here for and it is important that awareness is raised to help remove the stigma that is currently attached to ‘embarrassing’ problems.

I would encourage everyone to check for change, to know their own bodies, and to seek advice at the earliest opportunity if they are concerned about health-related matters – ‘embarrassing’ or not, the NHS is here to help!” 

If you’re experiencing any changes in your bladder or bowel health, it is important that you discuss these changes with your GP as soon as possible. If you are struggling to get in contact with your GP and you feel that you need help urgently please contact 111 for advice.