A screening programme for the second most common cancer in Northern Ireland can only be a welcome development.
While it has only been in place for four months, the bowel cancer screening programme has already proven its worth — offering people with the disease a better prognosis because of the earlier diagnosis.
Anyone who provides a stool sample which has traces of blood is invited to hospital to undergo further tests — usually a colonoscopy, which is an examination of the colon and the distal part of the small intestine with a special camera.
It may provide a visual diagnosis, such as ulceration or polyps, and affords the opportunity for a biopsy or removal of suspected lesions.
While an endoscopy, such as a colonoscopy, is a simple and relatively painless procedure for patients, the staff involved are highly trained, and as the regional training centre for doctors carrying out colonoscopies, staff at Whiteabbey Hospital have been key in developing the programme.
Dr Colin Rodgers, a consultant gastroenterologist who heads up the training programme for all doctors across Northern Ireland, explained: “We deliver courses for doctors, nurses and trainers which |ensures there is a consistent service and as high quality treatment as possible delivered to patients.
“At the heart of everything we do is the quality of the procedure and the patient experience and because we have a set |curriculum it means that everyone has to achieve a certain standard.”
The equipment used for a colonscopy is highly specialised — costing in the region of £35,000 for the scope alone.
The head of the scope has a diameter less than the size of a five pence piece where the camera lens and a light are located. The scope can also take pieces of tissue for examination.
Insertion of the scope is a |delicate operation — the clinician must feed it gently into the bowel so as not to injure the patient. The tiny camera mounted on the scope transmits a video image from inside the colon to a computer screen.
Before performing an endoscopy on a patient, clinicians practise on a dummy. There is also a training room at Whiteabbey Hospital where doctors and nurses can view live footage of colonoscopies being carried out on patients.