Swallowable cameras the size of capsules will be given to NHS patients in a “sci-fi” bid to check for cancer.
Taking more than 57,000 pictures as they work through the digestive system, the disposable devices are intended to replace complicated and uncomfortable endoscopies.
They will be handed out initially to 11,000 patients in more than 40 locations in England.
NHS leaders hope the revolutionary devices will help turn the tide of missed and late cancer diagnoses caused by disruption from the pandemic.
Users will wear an accompanying shoulder bag containing a data recorder, meaning they can carry on their lives as normal while the camera is at work. Known as colon camera endoscopy, the technology can provide a diagnosis within hours.
Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of the NHS, said: “What sounds like sci-fi is now becoming a reality, and as these minute cameras pass through your body, they take two pictures per second checking for signs of cancer and other conditions like Crohn’s disease.”
Infection control measures required to make endoscopies Covid-secure mean they take much longer to do, which has reduced the number of people who can undergo the life-saving checks.
By contrast, the capsule endoscopy normally takes five to eight hours and provides full images of the bowel.