lady with a stoma

This post has been written on behalf of Potter Rees Dolan about attitudes towards people with stomas. For people with bladder and bowel conditions, getting a stoma can be life-changing – or even lifesaving. A stoma can offer relief from chronic health conditions or provide a vital means of helping individuals to maintain a good quality of life after a traumatic injury.

However, despite the proven health benefits that stomas can provide for those with bladder and bowel problems, this form of treatment has sometimes been poorly understood by the general public. Worse, stigmas around stomas have often made it hard for ostomates to discuss their condition and get the support they need from those around them.

Fortunately, new evidence is now emerging that suggests perceptions are starting to change. Potter Rees Dolan recently carried out a survey of 518 people to assess attitudes towards and awareness of stomas among the UK public, revealing that the average Brit is more stoma-aware than you might realise.

Rising awareness of stomas and hidden illnesses

According to the results of the Potter Rees Dolan survey – the full results of which can be seen here – almost two thirds of British people have a good understanding of the importance of stomas, with 65% of respondents saying they knew what a stoma is.

Additionally, 68% were either somewhat or very confident that they understand why someone would require a stoma, while 73% said they understood that bowel cancer might lead to someone needing stoma surgery. 72% and 62% made a similar link for bowel surgery and Crohn’s disease, respectively.

This is despite the fact that only 28% of respondents personally knew someone with a stoma, and only 2% had a stoma themselves, suggesting that general awareness of stomas is increasing among those with no direct exposure to the issues involved.

The survey also indicated that Britons are starting to become more aware of the fact that some illnesses, including bladder and bowel conditions, do not need to be outwardly visible to have a significant effect on those affected. When asked whether they were familiar with “invisible illnesses”, 86% said yes, with 42% of those saying they understood the concept fully.

The spread of positive attitudes

As with so many aspects of public health, it would appear that this growing awareness around stomas and related issues is leading to the development of positive sentiment and welcoming attitudes, with any stigmas attached to having a stoma starting to fade away.

The respondents to PRD’s survey reflected this, with 78% saying they either agreed or strongly agreed that ostomates should not have to feel self-conscious about their colostomy, ileostomy and urostomy bags being visible. Meanwhile, 59% said they would not feel uncomfortable if a friend or colleague had a visible ostomy bag.

Similarly, the results indicated that people are also becoming more understanding of the issues that ostomates with non-visible conditions often face. An overwhelming 79% of those polled say they do not believe that only people with obvious physical disabilities should be able to use disabled toilets, with 55% saying they “strongly disagreed” with this idea.

This indicates that people with stomas are more likely than ever before to be able to depend on their friends, family members and colleagues to provide them with support and understanding as they focus on their adjustments and recoveries following stoma surgery.

Keeping the progress going

Although the results of the Potter Rees Dolan poll are certainly encouraging, it goes without saying that there is no reason to be complacent about this progress, with further public education and information needed to ensure that positive attitudes around stomas and hidden illnesses continue to grow.

For example, attention needs to be paid to the fact that some invisible illnesses elicit more empathy than others. While the majority of those responding to the survey believe that people with conditions like Crohn’s disease and multiple sclerosis should receive special allowances at work and be able to use disabled bathrooms and parking spaces, conditions such as migraines, diabetes and endometriosis generally receive a much lower level of understanding and sympathy.

This underlines the importance of continued advocacy by and on behalf of the UK’s disabled community, as well as the continuation of public discussions about the issues that affect people with long-term health conditions. The more visible and well-represented these communities are in public life, the better they will be understood when talking about the unique issues affecting them.

After all, people with bladder and bowel conditions are always likely to have challenges to face – but with the benefit of effective treatment options like stomas and the support of others behind them, overcoming those hurdles becomes so much easier.

Potter Rees Dolan provides legal services for those affected by personal injuries. To find out more about the work they do for people with stomas, please visit

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