The NHS and UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) have launched a campaign to raise awareness of UTIs amongst the public in an effort to reduce hospital admissions over the busy winter period.

In the past five years, NHS data shows over 800,000 hospital admissions due to UTIs, and clinical leaders are keen to remind patients and carers about the risks of getting an infection.

The campaign is vital for people over 65 since older adults are more prone to UTIs and made up almost three-fifths of UTI admissions in the past five years.

NHS resources and posters will be provided to local NHS areas and GP surgeries highlighting the symptoms of UTIs. They will also be shared widely with services for older people, such as care homes and charities.

UTIs are one of the leading causes of life-threatening E. coli bloodstream infections in England and are a significant contributor to the burden of antibiotic resistant infections. If left untreated, UTIs can spread to the kidneys, causing more pain and illness. Severe infections can lead to sepsis and in the most serious cases death.

New NHS data shows that there were over 1.8 million hospital admissions involving UTIs between 2018-19 and 2022-23, including those who were admitted because of a UTI and those who were admitted for another condition but had a UTI.

In 2022/23, there were 147,285 patient admissions with the primary diagnosis being a UTI. Over half of these cases were in adults over 65, with the highest number, 17,280 admissions, in the 80-84 age group.

Professor Sir Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, said: ‘As we get closer to what is likely to be another challenging winter in the health service, it is a good opportunity to remind people of the range of services available in the NHS.

‘This joint campaign with UKHSA is a timely reminder for older people and carers of the importance of keeping hydrated year-round – not just during warmer months – going to the toilet when you need to, and regular washing, which can all help avoid preventable infections like UTIs.’

Symptoms of UTIs include pain when passing urine, a high temperature, and lower abdominal pain. Older people may also experience behavioural changes such as agitation or confusion.

Professor Powis advises patients to seek advice from GPs, walk-in centres or community pharmacists or to call NHS 111 so that the UTI can be treated quickly. This is in line with one of the key aims of the NHS urgent and emergency care recovery plan, published earlier this year, which seeks to offer an expansion of out-of-hospital care so patients can be treated and recover at home.

The recovery plan aims to increase referrals into urgent community response (UCR) teams. These teams, which have been in operation since April last year across England, respond to calls usually picked up by ambulance crews and result in patients being treated at home within two hours of their call, avoiding a trip to A&E where clinically possible.

Patients can also be offered hospital-level treatment through virtual wards. UCR teams and GPs can refer patients who need a longer course of treatment to virtual wards, meaning that the patient can experience ‘hospital-at-home’ services for the treatment of UTIs.

Dr Colin Brown, deputy director for antimicrobial resistance at UKHSA, said: ‘UTIs are incredibly common, and while most people can manage their infection at home with painkillers and plenty of fluids, some do go on to develop much more serious complications that need hospital treatment. These more serious consequences are more common in people over the age of 65 so we are reminding this group in particular to be aware of the ways they can help reduce their risk of getting poorly.’

This article first appeared on our sister title Nursing in Practice.