Watch an interview about the tiny pill camera with Dr Mary McStay, a consultant at Colchester Hospital
Thousands of patients will be swallowing tiny cameras the size of a pill to check if they have bowel cancer.
The NHS is trialling the new technology, a colon capsule endoscopy, and it is expected to be able provide a cancer diagnosis within hours while patients go about their daily lives.
The pill was first tried out in February at Colchester Hospital in Essex.
Dr Mary McStay, consultant gastroenterologist based at the Essex hospital, is one of the team working on the national pilot study. The East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Trust was the first in England to trial the project.
Dr McStay said: “This is a very exciting development, as it means patients needing these really important investigations can have them done as an outpatient and it will speed up the process and diagnosis.
“The patient will be able to go home rather than stay in the hospital while the procedure is done.”
The capsule cameras, branded "ingenious" by an NHS boss will be a less invasive way of testing for bowel cancer, Crohn’s disease and other gastrointestinal problems.
Traditional endoscopies involve having a long, thin tube inserted into the body.
Due to the pandemic, fewer traditional endoscopies are currently being carried out. So the new technology also means the tests can be safely conducted from patients' homes.
They will be trialled in 11,000 patients at 40 different sites across England.
The tiny cameras take two photos per second, taking pictures of the bowel as it passes through. The whole process takes five to eight hours.
The images and additional information is sent to a data recorder in a shoulder bag.
NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said: “As we come out of ‘peak Covid’ and the disruption of the pandemic, the NHS is now pushing ahead with genuine innovation to expand services for many other conditions.
“That’s why we’re now trialling these ingenious capsule cameras to allow more people to undergo cancer investigations quickly and safely.
“What sounds like sci-fi is now becoming a reality, and as these minute cameras pass through your body, they take two pictures per second checking for signs of cancer and other conditions like Crohn’s disease.”
Sir Simon told MPs at the House of Commons Health Committee on Tuesday that cancer was a top operational priority for the NHS.
Bowel Cancer UK chief executive Genevieve Edwards said the new technology could make a "huge difference" for people with bowel cancer symptoms and help the NHS prioritise those who urgently need further tests.
NHS England said in December the number of people who had cancer checks surpassed the previous year and 25,000 patients received cancer treatment.
But there are still concerns that people are not seeking help during the pandemic.
Professor Peter Johnson, clinical director for cancer for the NHS in England, said: “From the cutting edge technology of these colon capsules to Covid protected hubs and chemo home deliveries, the NHS has fast tracked new ways of treating and diagnosing cancer – all while responding to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Endoscopy services continue and thanks to the hard work of NHS staff, cancer treatment and referrals have come back to usual levels, with more than 25,000 people treated for cancer in December and more than 200,000 coming forward for checks – 13,000 more than the previous year.
“The NHS message to anyone experiencing symptoms is clear – do not delay, help us to help you by coming forward for care – the NHS is ready and able to treat you.”