Petition seeks urgent toilet access

The first signs of Nicole Thorton’s inflammatory bowel disease showed up in her joints in primary school. 

As she grew, the pain shifted to her bowel, and she was diagnosed with Crohn’s – an incurable disease where the body’s immune system attack healthy cells, causing serious inflammation and, on bad days, an urgent need to use a toilet.  “I used to have to always make sure there was a toilet around … to feel safe,” Nicole, 12, said in the corridors of Parliament yesterday.

She was there to hand Labour MP for Hutt South Trevor Mallard a petition containing 3264 signatures for the right to use the toilets of any nearby workplace.  The petition aims to change the law, guaranteeing the estimated 20,000 Kiwis living with Crohn’s or colitis – another inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) – access to workplace toilets.  “If this becomes law, this would be a huge step to help everybody with Crohn’s and colitis to make life more liveable for them” Nicole said.

“I’ve had a relapse a few times and they’re horrible … you get cramps in your stomach and your stomach turns and you’re basically in the toilet the whole day.”

Crohn’s and Colitis New Zealand issued a card to patients in 2016, which could be shown to shop owners to request the use of their toilets.  But some shop owners ask for an explanation, and had the right to turn people away, Nicole said.  “We made this card so people can go, ‘Yes, here you go, through to the toilets’.”

The petition will be tabled when Parliament returns next week.  Labour health spokeswoman Annett King will work with the health select committee to organise a hearing.  Mallard expected questions to be raised on security aspects around letting stranger use workplace toilet.  “As far as the principle is concerned you’d have to be a pretty uncaring person not to support it.”

New Zealand has one of the highest IBD rates in the world, yet there’s little awareness of the illnesses.  “It’s referred to as one of the silent diseases because people don’t want to talk about it,” Hutt Valley DHB gastroenterologist Richard Stein said.  He said the prevalence of Crohn’s disease in the South Island had doubled in the past 10 years, according to a recent study.  “This is a big, big problem.  “I can’t tell you how many patients I see on a regular basis that carry a change of clothes with them when they go down-town.”

Nichole said Crohn’s sufferers can appear healthy, but the disease can flare up at any moment.

The petition also asks for the toilet use right to be extended to those with ileostomy bags, and pregnant women.

By Rachel Thomas, taken from the Southland Times 1 February 2017.