Delayed cancer diagnosis and disruption to health services during the pandemic have led to more people having stoma surgery and wearing a colostomy bag.
A stoma involves an opening in the abdomen to which a bag is fitted to carry a person’s waste.
It can follow cancer of the bowel, bladder or other forms of disease and illnesses in that part of the body.
Anne Marie Stuart, a clinical nurse specialist in stoma care in St James’s Hospital, Dublin, said: “As a result of Covid, we are seeing a lot more people presenting with more advanced cancers.
“During the pandemic, people may have ignored their symptoms and delayed getting them investigated.
“Due to a reduction in services, they may have had difficulty getting appointments with their GPs.
“Fear was also a big factor as people wanted to avoid hospitals. As a result, more people are living with temporary stomas than before. Understandably, cancer surgeries, urgent and emergency surgeries took precedence.”
Ms Stuart said a knock-on effect is that more people in Ireland are living with temporary stomas for longer than they would have expected while they await reversal surgery.
“Where stoma surgery is recommended for chronic illnesses such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, many of these patients have been on medication for their disease for years,” Ms Stuart said.
She pointed out their symptoms can greatly affect their ability to live a life without restrictions, socialise or work.
“There’s no doubt that stoma formation can be life-changing. It often has a positive impact on their lives,” she said.
“We frequently hear patients say, ‘It has given me my life back’.
“There has certainly been a huge shift in attitudes and stigma relating to having a stoma over the last few years.”
Ms Stuart was speaking ahead of a stoma patient information day next Saturday in the Ashling Hotel, Dublin.
It will be addressed by various experts and include a presentation from singer Brian Kennedy about his own stoma experience.
Following his bout with cancer, the singer said he is keen to break the stigma for more than 40,000 people living in Ireland with stomas.
Ms Stuart said: “People can live a very regular life, be accepted, do activities, travel, work, socialise and be in relationships.
“You don’t need to put restrictions on yourself. I think there’s a greater level of acceptance all round, whether you want people to know you have a stoma or if you prefer to keep it private.
“Years ago, the advice may have been to rest, take it easy and mind yourself.
“People were often afraid to get back to normal activities months or even years after surgery.
“Walking is a great place to start after surgery, building up your distance and stamina.
”We educate our patients on the importance of improving their core strength through breathing and movement so they can safely return to all forms of exercise and reduce their risk of complications.”
She said health promotion has never been so important following a challenging two years, during which many people’s activity levels fell.
“If you do need support, always know you can reach out to your stoma care nurse whether we are hospital- or community-based.”