Tackling the cost of constipation

The Bowel Interest Group are working to tackle the human and financial cost of constipation, a condition that can have a devastating physical and mental impact on the lives of people who experience it.

Poor bowel health and chronic constipation affects millions of people and this debilitating condition is currently preventing thousands of people in the UK from fully enjoying their lives. Many people are needlessly suffering with chronic constipation because of the taboo nature of the subject, combined with a lack of understanding of the issue.

The condition affects both the physical and mental health of people, and the economic burden on the NHS is huge. £162m was spent by NHS England on treating constipation in 2017-18 alone. This is equivalent to the cost of funding more than 7000 newly-qualified nurses for a year1.

“£162m was spent by NHS England on treating constipation in 2017-18 alone”

Managing constipation effectively

New data shows that being unable to manage constipation effectively is leading to thousands of hospital admissions each year, often through A&E. The data shows that:

  • 71,430 people in England were admitted to hospital with constipation in 2017/18, equivalent to 196 people a day
  • Of those, around three quarters – 52,715 – were unplanned emergency admissions (equivalent to 144 per day)
  • Females account for around 60% of admissions.

The total cost to hospitals for treating unplanned admissions due to constipation was £71m in 2017/18. This figure is likely to be much higher for total NHS expenditure on constipation when GP visits, home visits and prescriptions are taken into account.

Aside from the costs to the NHS, constipation can leave patients with anxiety or depression. Chronic constipation can also cause debilitating psychological and physical distress such as chronic pain or urinary tract infections. If not dealt with early on, it can also lead to more complex problems.

Bowel Independence Day

The Bowel Interest Group is launching the second edition of The Cost of Constipation report on Bowel Independence Day on 10 July. The research explores the cost of constipation to the NHS and the partnership is launching a new clinical pathway to help reduce its impact on patients’ lives.


Tara’s experiences

Tara, 51, was born with Spina Bifida. Her spinal cord was fused to her spinal bones. Surgery was performed when she was 18-months-old, releasing the spinal cord, but damaging the nerves to the bladder and bowel. This left her doubly incontinent. Tara lives in London.

“When I was young, I had no control over my bowels. You get the pulsating that moves the faeces throughout, but I’d have accidents. Nothing would move the faeces along, so I was given lots of strong laxatives.

“As a child taking lots of medications and the laxatives, I hated it. I stopped the laxatives, because there were too many accidents. I’d rather be constipated and strained than have accidents at school or at home. I just couldn’t deal with it.

“The accidents were less as a young woman because I was heavily constipated. After my ileosis deplasty I would get bouts of diarrhoea.

“My bowel isn’t right. I’m going from constipation to chronic diarrhoea within a day.

“It got so bad whatever I ate, I just had chronic diarrhoea. I went to my gastroenterologist because I was having accidents two or three times a week. I was still going to work and hiding it very well, because no one had any idea, but it was becoming intolerable.”

Tara has been using a trans-anal irrigation system for the past decade. Before she started using the system, she suffered from frequent panic attacks.

“It’s the panic of, is it going to happen? If it happens, where do I go? Have I got a spare set of clothes? Did I bring enough pants?

“The panic attacks would be coming more frequently, and the anxiety, and the, ‘Why would anybody want to spend their life with me? What have I got to offer anybody?’

“As soon as I step out of that door, the coat of bravado on, I’m fine. I’m looking well, I’m dressing well, I’m happy, I’m smiling. If you take the coat off, I’m miserable and I don’t look good and I’m not happy and I’m crying, because I’m not like everybody else and I can’t fix it. I can’t get rid of it. If I could remove my bowel, I would, but I can’t do that.”

Having struggled in the first few months to achieve a good evacuation with the transanal irrigation system, Tara made small tweaks to her routine, which makes the treatment more successful. She felt like everybody else, going to the toilet when she wanted to. She found it life changing.

“It fitted in with my schedule, it enables me to hold down my job, and socialise and meet with friends and family, and do the things that I want to do now, whereas I probably would have restricted my life dramatically.

“It’s given me back my life. I’m able to hold down a full-time job. I have a mortgage. I’m able to drive. It’s given me independence and it cuts out the panic of, ‘Am I going to have an accident?’ It’s given me quality of life and I think I deserve that.”


For more information on the Cost of Constipation report go to www.bowelinterestgroup.co.uk 

The Bowel Interest Group receives an educational grant from Coloplast Ltd. The Bowel Interest Group operates in an independent capacity and Coloplast has no editorial control.