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Awareness day to spread message about hidden disability

14 May 2019

Lesley Pitman

A gastroenterology specialist is using World Inflammatory Bowel Disease Awareness Day to spread the message that not every disability is visible.

World IBD Awareness Day, which falls on 19 May, aims to highlight the debilitating nature of chronic incurable digestive diseases. Lesley Pitman, gastroenterology clinical nurse specialist at the General Hospital, said that although about 400 islanders are affected by the condition there is little public knowledge about IBD and the impact it can have on a person’s life.

And she is also calling on local businesses to join in with a UK campaign to put signs on disabled toilet doors which state "Not Every Disability is Visible". The campaign was launched by the charity Crohn’s and Colitis UK to raise awareness that many individuals are effected by "invisible" chronic conditions and need the use of accessible toilet facilities.

Crohn’s disease, which causes inflammation of the digestive system, and ulcerative colitis, which causes inflammation and ulceration of the inner lining of the rectum and colon, are the two main forms of IBD. Both conditions cause diarrhoea, tiredness and fatigue, loss of appetite and weight loss as well as cramping pains and anaemia.

Sister Pitman said: "Inflammatory bowel disease can be a deliberating condition, which due to its largely hidden nature, can leave those with the illness feeling isolated and suffering in silence. World IBD Awareness Day aims to inform the public about this disease and the effect it can have on a person.

‘A key message that we want to get out is that not every disability is visible and it is important not to judge why someone may have accessed a disabled toilet. That’s why I’m hoping that Jersey restaurants and pubs will take up the campaign already in motion in the UK to place signs on disabled toilet doors to say ‘Not Every Disability is Visible’."

Dr David Ng, consultant gastroenterologist at the Hospital, added: "People with inflammatory bowel disease may need to access a toilet with urgency and that is why we fully support the ‘Not Every Disability is Visible’ campaign. IBD can be socially isolating so the more we can raise awareness about this often concealed illness, the better."

A support group for those with IBD has been set up by Sister Pitman and her colleague Sue McAllister. To find out more about the group, which aims to provide people with self-help strategies to help them deal with their disease such as mindfulness techniques, please email l.pitman@health.gov.je.

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