West Midlands becomes first English region to speed-up bowel cancer screening using technology as part of pioneering Levelling Up Smart City Region programme

Andy Street

The West Midlands has become the first English region to screen people for bowel cancer in their local pharmacy, at home or at other local settings, using new colon capsule endoscopy services (CCE) – so-called ‘pill cam’.


Screening people in their own community rather than in hospital will help to significantly cut waiting times and speed up lifesaving diagnosis. It is expected that 2,000 people will use the new technology across the West Midlands in its first year with waiting times cut from 30 weeks to just two.


The rollout of ‘pill cam’ is the first time this innovative, clinically proven screening technology will be available to residents in Birmingham and Solihull.

It will also significantly increase bowel cancer screening capacity in Coventry and Warwickshire and follows successful trials led by University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust and WM5G.


This is the first part of the pioneering £10 million Levelling Up Smart City Region programme led by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA). It is a key part of the £1.5 billion deeper devolution deal agreed between the Government and the WMCA last year.


The programme sets out to use cutting-edge wireless technology to help revolutionise the way healthcare is delivered within local communities and aligns closely with plans to increase NHS productivity set out in last week’s Budget.


The NHS Productivity Plan focuses on three key areas: transforming access and services for patients, using data to reduce time spent on unproductive administrative tasks, and updating fragmented and outdated IT systems.


Through the Smart City Region programme, the West Midlands is already leading the way in all three areas, rolling out CCE, developing an exemplar hospital that addresses issues around capacity and flow, and trialing the use of AI and data to improve primary care tasks and measure intervention outcomes for conditions such as diabetes.


WM5G, which is part of the WMCA, leading health-tech innovation, has partnered with Corporate Health International (CHI) to provide the ‘pill cam’ service and will work in close partnership with the NHS Birmingham & Solihull and Coventry & Warwickshire Integrated Care Boards to deliver the screening.


In addition to colon capsule endoscopy, the WMCA will also be expanding prevention, remote monitoring, and smart hospital services. This will help more people stay healthy and in-work, avoid being admitted to hospital or get discharged faster and be supported to live at home for longer.


Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands and WMCA chair, said: “The roll out of this life saving technology is a direct result of the West Midlands winning the competition in 2018 to become the UK’s 5G testbed.


“That has left a lasting legacy for the West Midlands which is now the UK’s best connected 5G region and a national leader in the real-world use of innovative 5G products and services like the ‘pill cam’.


“Bowel cancer is the second biggest cancer killer in the UK but the disease is treatable and curable if diagnosed early. The ‘pill cam’, as part of the Smart City Region programme, has the potential to provide thousands of local people with an earlier and easier diagnosis and the treatment they need to survive this disease.”


Dr Adil Butt, Consultant Gastroenterologist and Clinical Service Lead for Endoscopy at Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham, said: “Adopting clinically proven and remotely available technologies, such as CCE, enables both quicker diagnosis by streamlining existing referral pathways and releases valuable extra capacity within existing systems.

“This makes the diagnostic process more convenient for all, bringing previously hospital-based specialist care closer to patients by delivering screening services in their local community. This vital extra capacity comes at a critical time when the UK is facing a significant diagnostic backlog.”


Dr Mark Andrew, Consultant Gastroenterologist and Clinical Service Lead for Endoscopy at Good Hope Hospital said: “CCE is an established diagnostic examination that helps provide access to patients whilst protecting their dignity. I am pleased to see with the support of WM5G and CHI we can hope to offer this bowel test on a larger scale, whilst also reducing our carbon footprint.”


Dr Cornelius Glismann, managing director at Corporate Health International, said: “This contract is clearly a game-changer for the region and we are looking forward to working in partnership with WM5G and the health care providers to rapidly roll out Colon Capsule Endoscopy across the region.


“Our Colon Capsule Endoscopy technology was developed in direct response to a team-member’s personal experience of bowel cancer screening and was therefore designed with a firm focus on reducing waiting times while improving patient experience.”


Genevieve Edwards, chief executive at Bowel Cancer UK, said: “Around 43,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer in the UK each year, but a lack of capacity to meet demand in endoscopy services means there are often long waits between referral and testing, leaving thousands of people awaiting tests that could either confirm a diagnosis or put their minds at rest.


“The use of new technologies such as Colon Capsule Endoscopy helps identify those who require urgent colonoscopies so they can be tested and begin treatment more quickly.”