Nurses at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital are leading a ‘sponge on a string’ pilot in a gastroenterology department to diagnose conditions such as Barrett’s Oesophagus (B.Oes).
It is part of a new diagnostic test for patients referred from primary care with symptoms of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (acid reflux or heartburn) and is being offered as a less invasive alternative to endoscopy.
The Cytosponge consists of a spherical sponge within a dissolvable capsule attached to a string.
During the procedure, the patient swallows the Cytosponge and then the capsule dissolves and the sponge expands within the stomach.
Using the string, the sponge is retrieved and collects approximately one million cells lining the oesophagus, which are then sent to a lab for analysis.
With high accuracy the test can diagnose B.Oes, which is a condition where some of the cells in the oesophagus grow abnormally and can lead to oesophageal cancer.
By offering the Cytosponge procedure, the trust said it hoped that most patients with reflux symptoms could safely avoid other investigations and that endoscopy could be prioritised for those most in need.
Tracy McDonnell, lead nurse for endoscopy services, said: “We are excited to be taking part in this NHS England-funded pilot for the next 12 months, which is supported by Norfolk and Waveney [Integrated Care Board] and we will initially carry out one clinic a week.”
Ms McDonnell also noted how the procedure could be done in a clinic room and was less invasive than a gastroscopy, in which a long, thin camera is sent down a patient’s throat and can sometimes involve sedation.
She added: “The feedback during trials from patients who have endoscopy regularly is that they prefer Cytosponge to gastroscopy.”
Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals Trust joins other trusts across the UK leading similar pilots.
Due to the success at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which was the first in the UK to launch the pilot, the diagnostic test has been made a permanent procedure there.