Doctor’s lifelong mission to help IBS patients

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Dr Nick Read has dedicated most of his decades-long medical career to the field of irritable bowel syndrome - an illness that affects thousands of people in Sheffield alone.

The 70-year-old started his work collecting faecal samples in rural Africa - and is now the chair of trustees and medical adviser to Sheffield-based charity The IBS Network,

Nick was first set on his path after qualifying as a young doctor from Cambridge University and The London Hospital in 1970.

He wanted to practice in Africa, led a university medical expedition to Ethiopia to investigate the prevalence of the parasitic illness, Bilharzia, and followed that up by a sabbatical working in a mission hospital west of Lake Victoria.

“Facilities were primitive and there was so much to do”, he said.

“There was still a pressing need for trained doctors and nurses and I wanted to be part of it.

“At The London School of Tropical Medicine, I was advised to specialise in gastroenterology before going back to Africa. I then commenced training as an ‘offal’ doctor’.”

Nick moved to Sheffield in 1972 qnd trained as a gastroenterologist while conducting research on gut function in the University Department of Physiology. He then spent 1977, investigating diarrhoea at The University of Texas.

“I guess you could say, I travelled the world on diarrhoea,” he joked.

Years passed and Nick set up the Gastrointestinal Research Unit and the Centre for Human Nutrition.

But it wasn’t until he undertook four years training in psychoanalytical psychotherapy that his eyes were opened to a new way of helping patients - and he finally understood the condition that can cause pain, stress and embarrassment for so many.

Nick said: “I had spent most of my medical career working with people who had irritable bowel syndrome, but despite conducting extensive research in gastroenterology, physiology and nutrition, I still didn’t understand it.

“Psychotherapy opened my eyes to the arts and humanities and I realised there was more to medical practice than scientific rigour and by integrating the two in a patient centred, holistic practice, I could become a more useful to the patients who came to me.”

It was a patient of Nick’s who helped to create The IBS Network.

Sue Backhouse told him she was thinking of starting a charity for patients, and soon after it was born, with Nick as medical advisor.

The IBS Network’s 25th anniversary will be marked with a major, free conference at The Royal Victoria Hotel on April 16.

Its title is IBS, The Patient’s Perspective and for the first time will feature presentations by patients with IBS and responses by the medical experts.

The charity has grown to became the national charity for IBS with a mission to inform, advise and support patients and to work alongside health care professionals to facilitate self care.

Nick, who has retired as a consultant and professor, though he still sees patients as a psychotherapist or advisor, said: “People with IBS fall between the cracks in the medical system.

“Their illness is not entirely in the gut, nor is it entirely in their mind. It requires a knowledge of both to help.

“I’ve dedicated my career to helping people with conditions like IBS and I still want to use my role at The IBS Network and my passion for writing to try to work to change the way IBS is managed and to make a difference to those who suffer day in and day out with this debilitating illness.”

Nick has written 12 books and more than 500 medical papers, including two for non-experts, the most recent of which explored how to cater for IBS patients and was called Cooking for the Sensitive Gut.

And he swears by an unusual routine at home in pretty Edensor village, on the Chatsworth estate in Derbyshire, to keep him going.

“I wake early, prop myself up in bed and write for two hours while drinking my way through a large pot of China Rose Petal tea with three slices of lemon”, said the enthusiastic poet.

“I write about the things that I find interesting and then go out for a run through the park and a swim in the river. I swim every day without fail, whatever the weather. It seems crazy, I know, but it keeps me healthy and helps me focus on my writing and work for The IBS Network. “At 70, I feel I am on borrowed time and have to work mentally and physically to stay alive.”

Visit www.theibsnetwork.org or call 0114 272 3253 to book a place on the conference.