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Published: 05 July 2024

A decade of BowelScreen at Sligo University Hospital

Mary Cassidy (left) and Emma Davitt, Endoscopy Unit, Sligo University Hospital

The BowelScreen endoscopy unit in Sligo University Hospital (SUH) was established in May 2013. The unit offers colonoscopies to people who have blood found in their screening sample and provides this service to people from a wide area including parts of south Donegal, Leitrim, Longford, Cavan, Sligo and beyond.

BowelScreen has 15 endoscopy units based in hospitals across the country. The unit in SUH has carried out more than 2,000 colonoscopies, removing thousands of polyps. Finding these small growths during a colonoscopy, and removing them, can prevent cancer from developing and reduce the chance that you will get bowel cancer in the future. Around 80 people have been referred to University Hospital Galway (UHG) for treatment after cancer was diagnosed following screening.

Mary Cassidy, Registered Advanced Nurse Practitioner BowelScreen and Gastroenterology, has worked at the unit since it opened in 2013. She says there have been many positive changes over the years, including increased staffing and technological advances.

The service has also faced challenges – not least the impact of Covid-19 – which caused BowelScreen to pause screening between March and August 2020. Throughout, the aim of the team has been to make the visit as pleasant as possible for each patient.

“People come to our unit out of medical necessity, but once they’re here they get a warm greeting from everyone and are put at ease,” Mary said. “We first started delivering endoscopy services for the BowelScreen programme in May 2013.”

Dr Kevin Walsh, Consultant Gastroenterologist, has been Clinical Lead for Endoscopy for the past 10 years. “In that time we’ve managed to sustain and improve the service we offer, while meeting our performance targets. Over the past decade, we have seen many advancements in treatment options for our patients.”

In 2021 Dr Aisling Murphy, Consultant Gastroenterologist, joined the team. Her expertise means patients who need an advanced procedure to remove larger pre-cancerous lesions, called endoscopic mucosal resection, can have it in SUH rather than travelling to UHG.

Also, in 2021 the team welcomed Emma Davitt, Clinical Nurse Manager 2 in BowelScreen pre-assessment, to the service. Emma is the first team member many people interact with when she rings them to chat through the colonoscopy and book them in for the procedure.

Emma and Mary regularly share their knowledge by taking part in patient and staff education forums. To mark Bowel Cancer Awareness Month in April this year, staff contributed to the hospital’s inaugural Bowel Cancer Awareness Day information meeting.

The team have also kept up to date with technological advancements – using scope guides and water pumps to make the test more comfortable and bringing in technology to help identify polyps.

These efforts have been reflected in results from BowelScreen Patient experience surveys which show high levels of patient satisfaction for the unit at SUH.

“We are proud to say that the efficiency and effectiveness of our approach continues to have a positive impact on people using the BowelScreen service,” Mary said.

BowelScreen is for everyone aged 59 to 69. To register or find out more freephone 1800 45 45 55, email info@bowelscreen.ie or visit hse.ie/bowelscreen.