Ostomy history – stoma life in the 1970s


Ostomy life in the 1970s was pretty basic compared to today.

I recently got chatting to a ‘stoma veteran’ who was telling me what life was like with an ostomy when he had the surgery in the 1970s. Compared to back then it’s fair to say things have improved leaps and bounds!

It sounded pretty basic and made me grateful that things have massively moved on in terms of appliance quality, technology and post-operative support.

I’m sure most people were able to cope back then (they had no choice), but it does sound as though it was much more difficult. It led me to do a bit of my own research too…

For instance, I didn’t realise that back in the 70’s disposable ostomy pouches were not available, so patients were given two bags and whilst one was being worn the other was washed and dried. They came in a black or white colour and featured a basic screw stopper to drain them. There was obviously no such thing as specialist stoma care nurses and so instead people established informal ‘ileostomy clubs’ to get advice and support.

Better quality plastic-based pouches were available by the 70’s, but the majority of people were still supplied with latex rubber ones which were heavier and uncomfortable. And instead of being stuck on they were glued onto the skin using a special adhesive, which did not create as secure seal as today’s pouches.

All this got me wondering when the first ostomy pouches were created and it was actually as far back as the 1920s when the first rubber-ring ostomy bags were made for patients, held in place by adhesive glue and straps. I think before then, and probably until the 1950s, the surgery tended to be a very last resort. This would have been due to the lack of effective post-operative appliances and support, with some people relying on absorbent pads and home-made contraptions instead!

But by the early 1950s, ileostomy surgical procedures and general anaesthetic finally advanced and in the UK Salts Healthcare was the first mass manufacturer to design and make ‘collection bags’ later that decade, as they were called then.

All this history of appliances has made me realise that at least today there are a range of major, high-tech manufacturers out there that are researching and developing new technology to help make ostomy management successful.

This means that despite some challenges along the way, I can in general get on very well with life and not let it hold me back. But I wonder what treatments and appliances will be available 50 years from now?

If there’s any others on here who have had an ostomy for a long time please share your experience as I find it all curiously interesting.

One thought on “Ostomy history – stoma life in the 1970s

  1. Jack Drennan

    Hi my name is Jack. I have had an ileostomy since January 1970, I am about to turn the page to 69. My story started during December 1969 months before sitting my A level exams. To cut the story short my doctor misdiagnosed me and it was only after going to a private consultant that I was taken into hospital and had a total collections within days. That came as a major shock. I was a very keen rugby
    Layer at my school but this put an end to that. I was sent home with two Salts black rubber bags and not much else. I struggled with those friends fir a long time but continual leaks and sore skin were awful. Rumours went round the school and I had missed a lot of days so I left school and studied at home for my exams in June.
    MiraculouslyI passed two A levels but my choice of college had to be changed as I had to change my subject from PE to History. In 1974 I came across a new procedure developed by Professor Goligher of Leeds General Infirmary. He had invented an internal pouch which did away with the need for a bag, using a catheter to drain the internal Pouch. He agreed to perform the surgery. Long and short is tgat the surgery required two operations with 6 weeks between them.

    Surgery itself went well but, at post op stage the valve created at the opening of the pouch twisted and failed to work at all. I really needed a reconstruction but, because I was due to get married in July 1976 they kept me return to Belfast. There was no way I was putting off the wedding!

    At this point I found the new bags easier to use and more successful although had tge odd difficulty and embarrassing situations which I will leave untold at this point.
    In 2013 this all went belly up and after months of GP and hospital failure I had more surgery which saved my life again. I tell you all this because I have come through it all and because I understand the difficulties but also the advances from heavy rubber bags. Also because I am grateful for the Grace of God, the skill of surgeons and the support of family. It’s amazing how So much has changed over the years but also how much more open society has become.

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