21 January 2015 09:17

Researchers have found that specialist nurses play a crucial role in helping those with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) stay in work.

A report by Lancaster University’s Work Foundation recommends an increase in the number of specialist nurses to help people with IBD manage their condition in the workplace. The Work Foundation also advises that government services such as Access to Work and Fit for Work are reformed to better accommodate those with IBD.

IBD, such as Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis, affects the digestive system, causing different parts to become sore and inflamed. It affects around 300,000 people in the UK and costs the economy around £470 million each year.

The report, based on a series of interviews with employers and employees, explores the impact that IBD has upon the world of work. The study shows that job satisfaction, financial considerations and job flexibility are the key factors when making decisions about employment.

Researchers also found that the unpredictable and disruptive nature of the condition has psychosocial implications including anxiety, depression and a reduced sense of wellbeing.

Specialist nurses were cited as a great source of support by both employers and employees in helping patients manage their condition when in work. This help ranged from providing information and support on the initial diagnosis to discussing treatment options.

Participants also mentioned the essential work of patient charities like Crohn's and Colitis UK who have raised awareness of IBD and reduced the stigma attached to the condition.

The paper provides a number of other recommendations for individuals, employers and other stakeholders to help improve the experience of IBD sufferers at work. They include:

  • Individuals equipping themselves with information and having the confidence to disclose their condition
  • Employers ensuring that line managers are good people managers and developing a supportive culture which offers flexibility and occupational health services
  • Patient charities raising awareness among employers

Lead author, Dr Zofia Bajorek, said: “Individuals with IBD will do anything they can to work in their chosen career. However, our evidence suggests various factors, including individual constraints, healthcare-related support and organisational management structures remain barriers to employment.

“Joined-up working from relevant stakeholders ensuring positive employment relationships, supportive organisational cultures, improved diagnosis and awareness of IBD and the appropriate information provided to employees and employers as to how IBD is managed in the workplace must be improved so that individuals with IBD can enter, remain and ensure productivity in the workplace.”

Helen Terry, the director of policy, public affairs and research at Crohn's and Colitis UK, said: “IBD nurse specialists play a pivotal role in the delivery of high-quality care and improving quality of life for their patients. Our recent survey found that those patients who had support from an IBD nurse were more than twice as likely to be ‘very satisfied’ with their care.

“It is regrettable, therefore, that the latest UK-wide audit of IBD services found that 14% still provide no IBD nursing for their patients and many others fall short of the recommended minimum level set out in the IBD Standards. The expertise specialist nurses offer to patients is based on their unique understanding of the way in which IBD impacts on all aspects of life, including the importance of work and access to employment opportunities. We cannot emphasis enough the value that patients place on this support.”