Page last updated at 01:11 GMT, Monday, 17 May 2010 02:11 UK

NHS struggles with bowel disease 'epidemic'

By Eleanor Bradford
BBC Scotland health correspondent

It is unknown why Scotland has such a high rate of bowel disease

The NHS is failing to provide good enough care for a growing number of Scots suffering from bowel disease, according to doctors.

Since the 1980s the incidence of inflammatory bowel disease has doubled in Scotland.

Scots are now the most likely in Europe to be diagnosed with conditions such as Crohn's disease.

But doctors say many NHS units are struggling with underfunding, with a lack of specialist nurses.

Dr Daniel Gaya, a specialist in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, said Crohn's disease was on the increase in Scotland.

"It's almost reached epidemic proportions," he said.

"At Yorkhill children's hospital they're diagnosing one new case of Crohn's disease every week, which has major implications."

Stephen Murphy, 21, was diagnosed with bowel disease when he was just 11.

Incurable disease

He said: "I had no energy and every time I'd eat anything I was sick.

"My mum took me to hospital and it took about a week to diagnose Crohn's."

The condition stunted Mr Murphy's growth, but since undergoing treatment he has grown several inches.

No-one knows why Scotland has such a high rate of bowel disease or what triggers the condition in certain individuals.

Dr Gaya said the disease is incurable, requiring medical and often surgical treatment.

But many specialist units are struggling to provide quality care because of underfunding, he added.

Patient Stephen Murphy
Scots are the most likely in Europe to be diagnosed with bowel disease

He said: "Some units are lacking IBD nurses, who are crucial to prevent emergency admissions.

"There's a lack of support from dieticians, and only around 1% of patients currently participate in clinical trials, which is a very poor figure and we'd like to increase that."

Dr Gaya and other specialists in inflammatory bowel disease are going to the Scottish Parliament to lobby MSPs for more funding.

He acknowledged it is not a good time to be asking for money, but added they are seeking a reallocation of resources, rather than new funds.

Bertha Thompson, who has been living with bowel disease for 27 years, supports the doctors' campaign for increased funding.

She said she had to organise her life around problems associated with the condition.

"If we're going somewhere my husband plans the journey so there's toilets," she said.

"It's hard to plan anything in advance especially when the Crohn's is really active."

Mrs Thompson said any disease deserves funding, but pointed out that children can be affected by IBD.

She said: "It's bad enough getting it in later life.

"Anything that can help - not necessarily a cure, just better treatments."

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