PATIENTS in Scotland could soon be undergoing colonoscopies at home by taking a pill which films the inside of their gut.

The cutting edge technique will be targeted to suitable patients in three health board regions - Highland, Grampian and Western Isles.

It uses a device known as a colon capsule endoscopy (CCE) which is swallowed in the same way as normal pill, but contains tiny battery-powered cameras and video that can capture images of everything from the throat to the lower intestines and colon as it passes through a patient.

CCE is non-invasive, painless, and does not require patients to be sedated.

As a result it can be ingested at home or in local medical centres, avoiding the need for a trip to hospital, and allowing patients to go about their normal daily activities.

The only limitation is that patients must follow a liquid diet the day before the procedure.

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The most up-to-date CCE models have a battery life of 10 years and have two in-built cameras, one at each end, which can each rotate almost 180° to enable near full visual coverage of the colon.

They begin operating from the moment of ingestion, allowing visualisation of the oesophagus through to the small bowel.

The CCE can detect where it is in the gut and automatically switches between different imaging modes, ranging from 35 images per second to 14 images per minute.

An external data recorder stores the images transmitted by the CCE during transit, so that clinicians can assess the results in the normal way.

CCE was first introduced in 2006 as an alternative imaging technique to traditional colonoscopies and has previously been trialled in countries including Sweden and the US.

If successful, it is hoped that CCE could be rolled out more widely in NHS Scotland in future to ease pressure on waiting lists for colonoscopies, and help detect cases of bowel cancer more quickly.

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The evaluation is part of SCOTCAP - the Scottish Government's Modern Outpatient Programme which is seeking new ways to deliver health services at home or close to home.

It will be run by the Digital Health & Care Institute and NHS Scotland in collaboration with the Scottish Government, Highlands & Islands Enterprise, the universities of Aberdeen and Strathclyde, NHS National Services Scotland, NHS Highland, NHS Grampian, NHS Western Isles, Dublin-based medical tech company, Medtronic, and Corporate Health International - the Danish manufacturer of CCE devices.

Researchers from the universities will evaluate the findings to determine whether CCE should be introduced as a routine NHS Scotland service.

Health Secretary Jeanne Freeman, said: “The Scottish Government is investing in a range of new technologies that are helping to improve services and reducing waiting times.

"SCOTCAP has the potential to bring real benefits to patients, by both reducing the need to travel for appointments, and avoiding invasive endoscopy procedures.

"This evaluation in the north of Scotland will allow us to thoroughly assess whether there is scope to role this out more widely across Scotland. I look forward to seeing the results.”

READ MORE: New simpler test sees record number of Scots take part in bowel screening

Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in Scotland in both men and women with approximately 4,000 new cases diagnosed each year.

After lung cancer it is the second biggest cancer killer in Scotland with around 1,600 people dying of the disease each year.

A record number of people are taking part in bowel cancer screening since Scotland became the first part of the UK to launch a simpler, more accurate screening test in November 2017.

The new Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) has also been credited with helping to narrow the gap in bowel screening uptake among the most and least deprived patients.

However, an increasing number of referrals - largely due to Scotland's ageing population - have increased the demand for colonoscopy.

The most recent statistics, from ISD Scotland, show that only 65 per cent of patients referred for a colonoscopy were seen within the six week target time.

Jackie Fielding, regional vice president of Medtronic UK and Ireland, said: “Performing a colonoscopy is now as simple as swallowing a pill and we’re delighted to be partnering with Scotland’s Digital Health and Care Institute in delivering this minimally invasive form of colonoscopy in NHS Scotland.

“Medical technology and the digital age have the power to create enormous cost saving for the NHS while improving patient outcomes. We’re really excited to learn how this expanded evaluation develops.”