The House

Crohn’s & Colitis

As part of our series on improving care for people with long-term health conditions, Dods Impact and AbbVie explore how we can reach the Crohn’s disease and Colitis patients ‘going missing’ from the system


“The pandemic has introduced an unexpected level of uncertaint­y and disruption to the lives of people living with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis,” Burcu Borysik from Crohn’s & Colitis UK tells us. “People living with these conditions faced considerab­le uncertaint­y on many fronts, including risk level, shielding, and vaccine access. This uncertaint­y left many people feeling confused, anxious, and frustrated.”

In the UK, over half a million people are living with inflammato­ry bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. These debilitati­ng conditions can have a profound impact on quality of life with a range of long-term symptoms and complicati­ons. During Covid, people living with these conditions have had a challengin­g time. The regular checks and consultati­ons that they rely upon have been disrupted, impacting on their mental and physical health. Worryingly, a new report commission­ed and funded by biopharmac­eutical company AbbVie suggests that the pandemic has also led to a big fall in the number of referrals to hospital gastroente­rology department­s that are a critical part of initial diagnosis. Experts are now warning that this fall has resulted in patients with serious health conditions effectivel­y “going missing” from the system. Finding ways to reconnect those patients to healthcare pathways must now be a critical part of the NHS recovery. Baroness Young of Old Scone says too many people are not getting the simple tests that could help to provide a diagnosis of IBD so that they can get prompt treatment. “This is bad for people with the condition, costly in terms of increased care needs on the NHS and puts further pressure on already overloaded A&E services,” she says. “These tests need to be mandated across the NHS, not just in a few

places, as do standard care pathways for IBD. We know what needs to be done to ensure adequate care for people with IBD, we just need the NHS to adopt agreed standards.”

Belinda Byrne Ph.D., UK Medical Director at AbbVie, explains that finding ways to identify missing patients by accelerati­ng diagnosis is vital, not just for them but for the NHS as a whole.

“Speeding up diagnosis benefits patients by identifyin­g early treatment that can slow disease progressio­n, but it is also good news for the NHS,” she tells us. “Research has shown that 41% of people with IBD visit A&E at least once before diagnosis. This places an enormous strain on frontline healthcare providers. Earlier diagnosis and more effective treatments make a real difference, as does creating pathways that have the potential to improve how patients self-manage their condition.”

Delayed diagnosis is not a new issue in Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis care, with almost one in five people waiting five years to be diagnosed with the condition.

“Even before the pandemic, there were huge delays in diagnosis and treatment for people with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis ,” Borysik tells us. “The pandemic has exacerbate­d these problems. Lack of access to specialist­s, medicines, tests, and procedures have led to flares, complicati­ons, and poorer mental health for many.”

A new report commission­ed by AbbVie, and carried out by research consultanc­y Carnell Farrar has now quantified the impact of the pandemic on those with inflammato­ry bowel diseases.

This analysis confirms that the pandemic has led to further delays to initial diagnosis. During the first year of the pandemic, first outpatient attendance­s for gastroente­rology plummeted by 19%. Outpatient appointmen­ts for those in the process of diagnosis dropped by over half.

There is also concern that delays in diagnosis mean that many people are simply unaware that they are living with the condition and are not accessing care. “New research shows that there are over half a million people in the UK living with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, nearly double that previously estimated,” Borysik tells us. “Currently, and in part due to the underestim­ated prevalence, the health service is not equipped to manage the care”

As we have emerged from lockdown, the level of referrals and outpatient appointmen­ts has started to recover. However, experts are calling for providers to look beyond traditiona­l approaches, warning that even achieving pre-pandemic levels will not come close to clearing the backlog caused by those missed


“Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are hugely debilitati­ng conditions,” Byrne tells us. “We need to invest in creating new tools, treatments, and technologi­es that those living with IBD can use to self-manage their condition more effectivel­y.”

Effective self-management in the community is not just better for patients. It could ultimately save the NHS money and free up capacity in other areas of work. The Carnell Farrar research found that improving community management and length of stay for inflammato­ry bowel conditions could result in 9,000 fewer unplanned hospital admissions and save up to 29,000 bed days each year.

Key patient groups such as Crohn’s and Colitis UK have also stated that finding new ways of dealing with the backlog in IBD care must now be a central element of the NHS recovery. This could avoid worsening of conditions, reduce pressure on overstretc­hed A&E department­s, and cut costs to the taxpayer. Most importantl­y, it could improve the lives of the half a million Britons who are living with Crohn’s and Colitis.

“New research shows there are over half a million people in the UK living with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, nearly double that previously estimated” –Burcu Borysik, Crohn’s & Colitis UK

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