The Unfulfilled Promise: The Urgent Need for IBD Nurses in Ireland 

By Alan Murphy, CCI Member

In Ireland, individuals living with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) are all too familiar with the healthcare challenges that accompany this chronic condition. The pivotal role of IBD nurses in mitigating these challenges cannot be overstated—they offer specialised support, bridge critical gaps in care, and provide a much-needed lifeline to those navigating the complexities of IBD. However, a concerning scenario has unfolded: despite the approval of funding for additional IBD nursing positions, a subsequent freeze on recruitment has prevented these crucial roles from being filled. This bottleneck in the system has left many, including myself, in dire straits during flare-ups, highlighting a significant gap in our healthcare provision.

Recently, I experienced a flare-up of my IBD symptoms. In search of guidance, I reached out to my IBD nurse on a Friday, only to be greeted by a voicemail stating she would be unavailable for the next ten days. Attempting another route, I called the gastroenterology secretary but received no response. With the weekend approaching, and it being a bank holiday, I was forced into an uncomfortable wait until Tuesday to try again. 

Thankfully, when Tuesday arrived, I connected with the gastroenterology secretary quickly during the limited two-hour window in which phone calls were accepted. The secretary promised to pull my file and have someone from the team contact me. Despite this assurance, the promised call never came. It wasn't until the following Tuesday, when the IBD nurse returned, that I received a follow-up. By the end of the day, she had arranged for calprotectin tests to be sent to me, consulted with the consultant on my case, and scheduled me for a scope. This was a very anxious wait to get the care and advice I needed. 

IBD nurses play a critical role in the Irish healthcare system, offering more than just medical advice; they provide comprehensive care management, emotional support, and continuity of care that is both cost-effective and deeply impactful for patients. Their direct involvement in patient care significantly alleviates consultants' workload, allowing for a more focused and efficient healthcare delivery. Yet, the scarcity of IBD nurses—a result of recruitment freezes despite approved funding—has created a bottleneck, severely impacting patient care and outcomes. 

The irony of the current predicament lies in the juxtaposition of an acknowledged need and an unmet solution. The approval of funding for additional IBD nursing positions had initially provided a glimmer of hope for improved patient support and care. However, the subsequent freeze on recruitment has nullified this progress, leaving the approved positions unfilled and the promise of enhanced IBD care unfulfilled. This standstill not only undermines the efforts to improve care but also signals a deeper issue within Ireland's healthcare policy and administration sectors. 

The stalling of recruitment for IBD nurses in Ireland is more than an administrative oversight—it is a critical failure to prioritise patient care. As someone who has personally navigated the challenging waters of IBD management without adequate support, I can attest to the urgent need for action. Lifting the recruitment freeze and fulfilling the promise of additional IBD nurses must be a priority. This is not just a matter of policy adjustment but a necessary step towards safeguarding the health and well-being of thousands living with IBD in Ireland. 

The role of IBD nurses in Ireland is indispensable, offering a beacon of hope and support for those afflicted with this challenging condition. My personal experience during a recent flare-up serves as a stark reminder of the gaps in our healthcare system—a system in which a critical resource is acknowledged yet remains inaccessible due to bureaucratic hurdles. For the sake of current and future patients, the commitment to increasing the number of dedicated IBD nurses must be realised without further delay. It's time for action, time to deliver on the promise of better care for all.