Crohn's sufferers deliver impassioned plea for law change at Parliament

A schoolgirl is calling for a law change that would allow people with Crohn's disease access to any workplace toilets.

Thirteen-year-old Crohn's sufferer Nicole Thornton says it will allow the 20,000 sufferers in New Zealand the freedom to leave their homes without fear of an accident.

She arrived at Parliament on Wednesday ready to share the most personal details with a room full of strangers.

"Before I was diagnosed with Crohn's, I was seven," she said. "I had a lot of stomach cramps and problems with my bowel. I spent a lot of time on the toilet."

She wants to ensure fellow Crohn's disease sufferers never have to fear being caught out, calling for a law change allowing sufferers - as well as the pregnant and elderly - access to workplace toilets if they show a special card.

Crohn's disease is a lifelong gastrointestinal disorder in which parts of the digestive system become sore and inflamed, affecting its ability to absorb water and nutrients. This often results in frequent diarrhoea and fatigue, as Nicole explained to Newshub.

"After today I'll probably need a week's rest - that's how much energy just drains out of you with Crohn's."

Kate Montgomery, another Crohn's sufferer, is one of 5000 New Zealanders with an ostomy bag. She told politicians about what she calls the most mortifying experience of her life.

"I went into a real estate office and asked if I could use the bathroom, and they wouldn't let me. As we drove home the bag started to leak from being over full."

Nicole's doctor Richard Stein says it wouldn't take much to enact the law and prevent such humiliation

"To me it's a no-brainer, 17 states in the US have similar laws."

The Ministry for Business Innovation and Employment is opposed to the law change, saying it will add compliance costs and raise workplace safety issues for businesses.

"We think a voluntary approach is much better, through education," said enterprise policy manager Karl Woodhead.

But Richard Stein says a public campaign isn't realistic because Crohn's and Colitis New Zealand lack resources. He says provisions to the law will ensure workplace safety.

The Health Select Committee will prepare a report to present to Parliament.