Scottish woman's invention for her husband could bring confidence and dignity to thousands with stomas

A solution to leaking stoma bags invented by a Lanarkshire woman for her husband could “revolutionise” the lives of thousands if made available on the NHS.

Anne Inch, 67, created an absorbent device to contain bag leaks after her husband Iain struggled to cope with the inconvenience and embarrassment of up to nine a day during a long period in hospital.

A stoma is an opening connected to the digestive or urinary system to allow waste to leave the body and be collected in a bag.

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Conditions leading to a stoma include bowel and bladder cancer, diverticulitis and Crohn’s Disease. Each stoma is different and is often surrounded by scar tissue, meaning the seal connecting the bag to the skin can leak.

Anne Inch with her husband Iain.Anne Inch with her husband Iain.
Anne Inch with her husband Iain.

In 2015, Mr Inch, who has a type of stoma known as an ileostomy, was spending up to a third of a year in hospital.

He had several health problems, but was finding frequent bag leaks the most difficult thing to cope with, as they caused a strong smell and it took considerable time for busy nurses to change his sheets.

Seeing how distressed her husband was, Ms Inch, who also has a stoma, a colostomy that is less prone to leaks, used a protective bedsheet and her sewing machine at home to create a solution.

She fashioned a doughnut-shaped cover made of the absorbent material, which sits over the seal connecting the stoma bag to the skin.

Anne Inch (right) with Lisa Crombie, who helped produce the invention.Anne Inch (right) with Lisa Crombie, who helped produce the invention.
Anne Inch (right) with Lisa Crombie, who helped produce the invention.

This barrier does not prevent leaks, but alerts the wearer to them, and contains the mess and smell long enough for the bag to be changed before the leak spreads.

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This avoids skin irritation, and means people with stomas can have much more confidence getting out without worrying about a leak.

It also reduces the need for nurses to change hospital sheets and could free up beds as elderly patients may be kept in hospital if their bag leaks.

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“It is a device for dignity, so individuals like Iain and I, regardless of age or the reason for wearing a bag, can live ordinary lives with greater confidence,” said Ms Inch.

"It allows people to go to work wearing a white shirt, play at school, or go out to dinner happy in the knowledge that they won’t have an embarrassing moment.”

Many people are embarrassed by having a stoma, Ms Inch said, and fear of leaks can “destroy” their confidence and lead to them not leaving the house.

She hopes her invention will reduce the stigma and shame around stomas, which one in 400 people in the UK are estimated to have.

Ms Inch enlisted the help of a friend, Lisa Crombie, to bring the product to market under the name ConfiPlus.

Now with support from Heriot-Watt University the pair hope to get it rolled out on the NHS.

The university’s Medical Device Manufacturing Centre (MDMC) offers free support to help small companies navigate the clinical evaluation process.

Professor Marc Desmulliez, manager of the centre, said the product could save the NHS significant money, in freeing up nurse time and hospital beds.

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The product is “deceptively simple”, he said, adding: “What I was taken aback by is that they are not trying to stop the leaks, they’re trying to contain them. It’s a very simple idea, but very impactful.”

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