HAVING an endoscopy is not high up on most people’s list of things to do.
The procedure involves a tube being put either down the patient’s throat or up their rectum through which a camera is inserted and beams high definition images back to a screen for doctors to assess.
By using the technique, experts can access huge swathes of the inside of a human body without having to resort to cutting people open to take a look.
And, as endoscopy matron Becky Cavalier revealed, specialist cutting equipment can also be dispatched down the tube to deal with extra small bits of troublesome tissue.
Nevertheless, despite its obvious usefulness, Mrs Cavalier accepts it isn’t the nicest thing in the world for someone to have to go through.
She said, “There is a level of discomfort and people are offered the option of sedation.
“It should not be painful but can be uncomfortable and a local anaesthetic can help the patient to relax.
“But the procedure does not last very long – usually between ten minutes and an hour depending on what sort it is – and we can tell an awful lot from the pictures we get.”
There are four main types of endoscopy: a gastroscopy, which looks down the gullet into the stomach; a flexible sigmoidoscopy, which looks at the lower end of the bowel; a colonoscopy to see into the large bowel or a bronchoscopy to look into the lungs.
Patients dealt with at the DGH are aged 17 upwards and from January until June this year the team carried out 3,308 procedures at an average of 550 a month.
Quite a mammoth workload then for a relatively small team made up of 11 nurses, four admin staff and a rota which makes use of 12 different doctors.
The work is even more impressive when you consider the sheer variety of symptoms the team is looking into.
These can range from experiencing difficulty in swallowing, unexplained weight loss and abdominal pain, to coughing up blood, anal bleeding and persistent diarrhoea.
Clearly, while sticking equipment where the sun does not shine may not be particularly appealing, it is a hugely skilled job.
And, while staff readily admit patients are hardly enamoured with the prospect of undergoing an endoscopic investigation, they are happy with the results. Or as happy as they can be.
“We have very positive feedback from patients,” explains Mrs Cavalier. “We have just completed a voluntary patient satisfaction survey and out of 100 questionnaires sent out just four per cent had a negative comment, with 93 per cent saying they’d had a positive experience.”
The majority of those patients do not even need to stay in hospital for longer than an hour.
Such are the advances in technology and expertise that people can be in and out in no time at all.
This means more people can be seen which in turns lowers waiting lists and lets people know as soon as possible whether or not the tests have turned up anything they should be concerned about.
Considering many of the procedures are looking for cancers, making that wait between test and results as short as it can be is vital.
“Most people we deal with have been referred to us, often by GPs, and nobody wants to be waiting too long to find out if there is something seriously wrong with them.
“We meet the crucial two-week rule which means that if a doctor suspects there may be a possibility of a cancer diagnosis the patient is scoped within two weeks of us receiving the referral.
“All other outpatients are scoped within six weeks and inpatients within a couple of days.
“It is important because for some people there is nothing to worry about, but for others it can be a case of the sooner the diagnosis, the sooner the treatment can start and the better their chances of a recovery.”
Endoscopy is certainly one of the DGH’s success stories.
And, if proof of that was needed, East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust which runs the hospital has already embarked on an ambitious scheme to build the team a state-of-the-art new home.
Mrs Cavalier explained, “Next year we are very fortunate to be moving into a brand new purpose-built endoscopy unit which has been partly funded by the NHS and a very generous donation by the League of Friends.
“We will be able to increase the number of patients having procedures and provide a bowel cancer screening service.
“I have been involved in the design of the new site and can honestly say we are all really excited about the move. It will make our service even better.”
r Anyone who has experienced any of the symptoms mentioned above, or who is vomiting blood, has a persistent cough or has experienced an unexplained change in bowel habits, should contact their GP immediately.