With less invasive treatments like key hole surgery well established, it is only natural that methods of investigating disease are developed which are less labour intensive, less painful and which disrupt the person’s daily life to a lesser degree.

Capsule endoscopy is one such technique. Already available in the USA and elsewhere, it is being trialled in 11,000 patients, over 40 sites across England, and has been described by Sir Simon Stevens, head of the NHS, as “ingenious”.

The investigation of disorders of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, has traditionally involved endoscopic (camera) procedures. These require a hospital attendance of several hours, skilled personnel to carry out the test and an appropriate facility. Complications include pain, bleeding and on rare occasion, perforation of the gullet or bowel. Examination of the upper GI tract stops at the first part of the small intestine, and colonoscopy only reaches as far as the start of the lower GI tract (large bowel). The majority of the small bowel is not reached. Disorders found here include cancerous as well as non-cancerous conditions, both vital to identify.

Screening programmes for bowel cancer have resumed, but concern remains that some with symptoms of potential malignancy are not approaching healthcare services due to fears surrounding Covid.

Capsule endoscopy involves swallowing a pill with a coated surface to make it more slippery. The pill slides down the entire gastrointestinal tract, taking two photographs per second on a journey that typically lasts five to eight hours.

Patches are attached to the abdomen to receive images which are then uploaded to a data recorder, either worn around the waist, or in a shoulder bag.

You attend a medical setting for approximately half an hour to be kitted up and swallow the pill. You can then go about your normal daily business, usually being able to have a drink two hours later and a light meal around four hours into the process.

The data recorder is handed back later the same day or perhaps the day after and the capsule is entirely disposable.

We await the results of this trial with hope and optimism, recognising that capsule endoscopy will not replace other methods of investigating gastrointestinal disease, but will hopefully add to the list of diagnostic tools that can be used successfully in future.