Healthcare Science Week is from March 14-20 – and we’re taking a look at some amazing scientific developments at Barnsley Hospital.

Here we have a disposable camera that’s small enough to swallow like a pill yet powerful enough to help rule out bowel cancer – the technology is now being expanded in Barnsley.

Part of a national pilot programme, the innovation will offer some people with potential bowel cancer symptoms a ‘colon capsule endoscopy’ (CCE) instead of the more invasive colonoscopy. Barnsley Hospital is one of the centres trialling more extensive use of CCE.

Barnsley is already one of the leading centres for the procedure in South Yorkshire. However, its use so far has been limited. Stacey Oliver, Lead Capsule Endoscopy Clinical Nurse Specialist, said: “I’ve been in post since 2014 and before that capsule patients used to come to appointments and were dealt with by a nurse allocated on the unit.

“Sometimes, those patients were waiting longer than they should have. This was the first thing I changed, giving patients a slot time and a dedicated nurse for the procedure. As the service advanced, we have now got test time slots.

“We do try to ensure patients are not kept waiting, especially when they have procedures that they’re worried about. It’s the fear of the unknown. To reduce that we have someone to meet a patient in reception and go through details of the procedure.”

Despite small bowel capsule endoscopy having being carried out in Barnsley for some years, the department – led by Dr Kapil Kapur, Lead Capsule Endoscopy Consultant – only did about 20 of these procedures a year. Following Covid, there was an ever-growing list of people waiting for a colonoscopy – the type of endoscopy ‘camera’ test used to diagnose bowel cancer, amongst other things.

The big bonus of colon capsule endoscopy is that it is accessible and highly acceptable to patients, so much so that it could change the incidence of colorectal cancer.

What does a colon capsule endoscopy involve?

The test involves swallowing a small pill that contains a tiny disposable camera. This travels along the gut and takes thousands of pictures. These are transmitted to a data recorder that patients wear on their waist.

Before the test, patients are normally asked to eat a low fibre diet for around five days, as well as taking medicine to empty the bowels as part of the bowel prep. Patients also need to take more medicine on the day of the test to help the camera pass through smoothly.

Patient praises ‘second to none’ service

Patient David Sasin, 72, from Barnsley, is among those who has given positive feedback to CCE. He said: “I had a fall on holiday which gave me a lot of pain and I was struggling to pass stools. After seeing the doctor, I had a hospital appointment and was worried I would need a colonoscopy – I was quite glad to hear I would be able to have the capsule endoscopy instead.

“I went through five days on a controlled diet and taking ‘clean prep’ (medicine to empty the bowels). I didn’t find this a struggle although the taste of it wasn’t very nice – I just drank a glass of squash to take the taste away.

“Taking the capsule wasn’t a problem at all. It was a lot smaller than I thought and went down very easily with a glass of water. It’s the size of a large vitamin pill and has a camera and transmitter and I also had a small battery device externally to operate it. The capsule is linked to a data recorder. Then when a patient passes the capsule and brings the equipment back to hospital, the data is downloaded on to a computer and a video is created. It’s a far preferable experience to a colonoscopy.”

While the test can be delivered quite quickly, experts still need to take a look at the images – it’s not instant. And if a patient has the colon capsule endoscopy, they might still need to go for a colonoscopy, depending on the results.

Barnsley is one of the leading trusts in the country for this technology. David added: “I think Barnsley Hospital is a very good hospital. The service is second to none. They are spot on with appointment times; the management behind the appointment system is very good and we’ve always been treated very well.”

Why would I have a colon capsule endoscopy?

There are a number of reasons why you may need an examination of your large bowel:

  • You’re experiencing symptoms like a change in your bowel habit or blood in your stools.
  • You need a test to check for bowel diseases that you may be at risk of developing.
  • You’ve been referred for this test because you were unable to have a colonoscopy.

Patients with pacemakers or internal electro-medical devices, or pregnant women should not have this test.

Longer-term, health services hope that annual and local colon capsule endoscopy – done in people’s own homes – will transform colon cancer diagnosis. In Barnsley, teams have also

introduced patient packs containing items like soft toilet wipes and various hot and cold drinks to help make bowel prep easier.

Stacey Oliver, Lead Capsule Endoscopy Clinical Nurse Specialist, added: “It would be lovely if we could let people know the hard work we are doing in the Endoscopy department. Lead nurse Rachael Sanderson and her team work incredibly hard to ensure patients receive a high standard and quality care when they attend for these difficult tests. I think we need to recognise this and celebrate following the difficult two years we have had within the NHS.”