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Fri, 15 January 2021

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By Baroness Young
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It is vital that Inflammatory Bowel Disease is not put on the back-bench

It is vital that Inflammatory Bowel Disease is not put on the back-bench

Treatment for IBD has been altered by the pandemic. Many IBD nurses across the UK have been rotated to COVID-19 critical care, or have been redeployed to other areas of the hospital, such as cancer wards, says Chris Evans MP | Credit: PA Images

4 min read

IBD has for far too long been invisible on the political agenda. It is vital that in the coming months, IBD is not put on the back-bench, as it is extraordinarily stressful for sufferers, and ultimately costly to the NHS.

On the door to the toilet opposite my office there is a sign which reads ‘not all disabilities are visible’.

It is something that we too often forget but every day we may see someone who we have no idea is coping with an invisible disability. 

As these disabilities are not visible they far too often do not make it to their rightful place on the political agenda, this is even more so as the country has become focused on one issue - the pandemic. 

The coronavirus pandemic has undoubtedly shaped our lives in countless ways. It has transformed the way we have worked, the way we have interacted with friends, the way we shop.

A major concern for many during this time has been how to manage the pandemic in our hospitals, and the problems that have arisen as a result of the strain the NHS has been under.

It has been visible in the rainbows in people’s windows over summer, the PPE worn by medical staff and the establishment of special wards for COVID patients.

Delayed diagnosis is often costly - a delay in diagnosis increases the likelihood of surgery or more expensive treatments, and if left untreated can cause more serious complications, which might require emergency surgery.

There have also, of course, been a lot of far less visible changes: surgeries have been postponed, people have been discouraged from making GP appointments unless it is urgent.

For sufferers of diseases such as IBD, this has been very worrying.

Crohns & Colitis UK conducted a survey asking sufferers of IBD to share their experiences of healthcare and employment during the pandemic; 45% said they did not think the government understood or accommodated their needs.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is incredibly painful, debilitating, and virtually invisible to most. Around 300,000 people in the UK live with it, with Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis being the two main forms.

It is a chronic and lifelong disease that causes inflammation of the digestive system. 

People are often embarrassed to talk about it, and diagnosis can take a long time - symptoms can be confused for allergies or IBS.

During the pandemic, many people may have been afraid to reach out to GPs, or have felt uncomfortable talking about it over the phone.

Diagnosis for Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis often requires blood tests, endoscopies and/or colonoscopies, many of which have been delayed during the pandemic.

Delayed diagnosis is often costly - a delay in diagnosis increases the likelihood of surgery or more expensive treatments, and if left untreated can cause more serious complications, which might require emergency surgery.

Treatment has also been altered by the pandemic. Many IBD nurses across the UK have been rotated to COVID-19 critical care, or have been redeployed to other areas of the hospital, such as cancer wards. 

IBD has for far too long been invisible on the political agenda, in spite of the fact that the lifetime costs for treating and caring for Crohn’s and Colitis are estimated at £900 million per year.

Surgeons may be rightly concerned about operating on an already immunocompromised IBD patient as this may make them more vulnerable to COVID-19. 89% of patients with IBD surveyed by Crohns & Colitis UK whose planned surgery had been cancelled were not given new dates.

Delaying surgery can increase the risk of life-threatening complications, disease progression which results in life changing surgery, more extensive surgery or surgical complications.

It is therefore vital that measures are in place to allow surgery and treatment to continue, otherwise the risk is increased in delay.

IBD has for far too long been invisible on the political agenda, in spite of the fact that the lifetime costs for treating and caring for Crohn’s and Colitis are estimated at £900 million per year.

It is vital that in the coming months, IBD is not put on the back-bench, as it is extraordinarily stressful for sufferers, and ultimately costly to the NHS.

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