A Somerset-wide project that has improved the way patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can self-manage their condition has won a prestigious national award for its clinical effectiveness.
The project won the award for sharing best practice across the NHS in Somerset. It was chosen as the award winner following a vote by healthcare professionals at the 2016 National Institute for Clinical Effectiveness (NICE) conference.
IBS is a common condition that affects over 1 in 10 people during their lifetime. It can cause miserable symptoms for patients such as abdominal pain, cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and/or constipation and urgency.
The condition is diagnosed by assessing a patient’s symptoms, as test results, including endoscopy appearances, are always normal in IBS. While there are a number of other conditions that cause similar symptoms, these conditions are ruled out by using simple blood and stool tests.
In Somerset, clinicians reported that patients with suspected IBS were being referred to hospital outpatient clinics to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms, such as Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis.
Many of these patients were not given a long term plan to manage their condition and a third of patients ended up being referred to the same hospital department again with the same symptoms.
Updated guidance from NICE said that patients could be checked for these conditions by their local GP. It also recommended that people with IBS should be offered advice on their diet and lifestyle to self-manage their condition effectively.
By working together, Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group, Taunton and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust (Musgrove Park Hospital), Yeovil District Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and Somerset Partnership NHS Foundation Trust have been able to improve patient care by implementing the NICE guidelines across Somerset.
Now, rather than arranging unnecessary and invasive tests for 16-45 year olds with likely IBS, GPs concentrate on ruling out other conditions with similar symptoms in their surgeries by using simple tests.
After ruling out other conditions, patients with likely IBS get specific diet and lifestyle advice, either at their GP surgery or at specialist dietetic clinics in four locations across Somerset, close to their own homes.
Results from these clinics show three quarters of patients report an improvement in their quality of life, with 70% continuing to have a lasting benefit at 6-18 months.
Dr Emma Greig, consultant gastroenterologist at Musgrove Park Hospital, said: “We are very pleased to have been voted as winners of this award by our fellow professionals. By making irritable bowel syndrome less medicalised, we’ve made it easier for patients to manage their own symptoms through diet. Patients are referred less often for unnecessary invasive procedures and GPs are more confident in IBS care.”
Dr Steve Gore, consultant gastroenterologist at Yeovil Hospital, said: “Our team at Yeovil was pleased to be part of a Somerset-wide initiative to improve the diagnostic and treatment pathways for this cohort of patients with IBS. We are delighted that this innovative work has been recognised nationally at the NICE Shared Learning awards.”
Marianne Williams, Somerset Partnership’s specialist community gastroenterology dietitian, said: “We are thrilled that the work of our Somerset team has been recognised at a national level and this award helps to raise the profile of a distressing condition which effects over 15% of the UK population.
“With this award, NICE has acknowledged that the NHS in Somerset has created an innovative and successful solution for patients with irritable bowel syndrome which could be used nationally.”
Photo of Dr Emma Greig, consultant gastroenterologist at Musgrove Park Hospital.