Call for more public toilets in county

By Seoirse Mulgrew

A Galway consultant has called for more public toilets for people suffering from Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and urinary problems. 

Laurence Egan, who is Consultant Gastroenterologist at Galway University Hospital and a professor in the school of medicine at NUI Galway, called the situation “terrible” for those suffering from the conditions.

“It’s terrible and it’s not only for IBD patients but also for patients with urinary problems. I feel so sorry for patients having to go into restaurants or bars, it’s kind of embarrassing and adds to the stigma,” he said. 

“I would be very much an advocate for more public toilets obviously to be kept well and hygienic but also there has been this idea of having a pass for IBD patients that they could maybe jump a queue for public toilets and I think that’s also a good idea. I think the Ireland of 2021 is reasonably open minded and liberal and I think people know that something like that wouldn’t be abused.”

A total of 1,500 patients with IBD have attended Galway University Hospitals in the past five years.

IBD is a term mainly used to describe two conditions: Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. The two disorders cause chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. It is estimated that at least 40,000 people are living with IBD in Ireland.

Professor Egan commented on the stigma that’s still attached to gastrointestinal conditions. 

“People tend to shy away from gastrointestinal conditions because it seems a bit of an uncomfortable topic for some people compared to other illnesses. IBD is a little bit mysterious to most people, what exactly it is, I think as well as that people tend to mix up irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) with IBD.”

Professor Egan offered advice to those who may not have received a diagnosis yet.

“The symptoms of IBD are non-specific, which is the difficulty. IBD cannot be diagnosed without doing tests.”

“My advice to people would be if there’s something wrong with your bowel habits, particularly if you’re going more than three times a day, a sensation of having to rush to get to the toilet on time, bleeding, lower abdominal pain, they’re all important symptoms. So, anyone who is having a lot of persistent symptoms needs to talk to their nurse or doctor about that,” he added.

Director of the Irish Society for Colitis & Crohn’s Disease (ISCC), Amy Kelly, lives with Crohn’s disease. She was diagnosed in 2019.

Amy Kelly

“I was living with symptoms for years but never really realised what they were. It all came to a head about two weeks before I ended up in hospital, I had severe stomach pains so much so that by the end I couldn’t tie my shoes or put my socks on it was so severe.”

“I was in hospital for 10 days I was really unwell and the first thing I felt was relief that it’s not all in my mind. I got treatment and I’m now on medication and so far, so good. I’ve been very well thankfully the last two years.”

“It took me a good year to process it, I needed time to grieve my health. It’s life changing,” she said.

Ms Kelly, who now lives in Galway, has raised awareness for IBD by hosting Gutcast, Ireland’s first ever podcast for people living with IBD, which launched in July 2020.

“The response to Gutcast when it first launched was absolutely amazing. We’ve had over 20,000 listens to the podcast to date and for a niche podcast that’s huge. Everyone knows someone living with IBD but it’s not talked about half enough,” she said.

World IBD day takes place on Wednesday, May 19.

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