I remember the incredulity on the faces on my European colleagues 20 years ago when I told them that the UK was to start training nurse endoscopists. They doubted that it was desirable (or even possible!) to train nurses. Of course, by then the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (ASGE) had for many years endorsed flexible sigmoidoscopy by ‘nonspecialists,’1,2 but little evidence of their effectiveness had been published.3
Unsurprisingly, it was the relentlessly increasing demand for endoscopy that made the introduction of nurse endoscopists necessary in the UK. Some 20 years ago, the demand for gastroscopy approached 10 per 1,000 population per year and the demand for colonoscopy was expected to increase from an average of 2.5 to 10 colonoscopies per 1,000 population per year.4 In addition, the implementation of the NHS National Bowel Cancer Screening programme would further inflate the demand for endoscopy.
For this reason, a British Society of Gastroenterology (BSG) Working Party5 gave the green light for nurse endoscopy, together with the United Kingdom Central Council (UKCC)6 and the General Medical Council (GMC). However, it was a cautious start because endoscopy was seen as a risky procedure that was associated with a 1:2,000 risk of death.7 The BSG, GMC and UKCC all agreed that nurse endoscopists were only to act as “technicians”. The responsibility for the patient’s management remained with “the supervising doctor” who had to be “immediately available within the hospital” (an oxymoron of course) in the event of complications or to give advice. Now we know that they were wrong and that the “interpretation of findings does not rely on the experience and training of an appropriately qualified doctor.”5 Endoscopy can be taught! Indeed, throughout the UK, nurse endoscopists now work independently, interpreting findings without the immediate supervision of a clinician.
The uptake of nurse endoscopy has been steady in the past 20 years. In Leeds we have seven nurse endoscopists who undertake about 22% of our gastroscopies, 27% of our colonoscopies and all of our flexible sigmoidoscopies. ERCP, enteroscopy, EUS and most therapeutic endoscopy procedures that pose a significant risk of complications are carried out by consultants who are increasingly dedicating their time purely to endoscopy.
Now we know more about the performance of nurse endoscopists. There is irrefutable evidence that the caecal intubation rate, adenoma detection rate, complication rate and patient satisfaction scores are comparable among nurses and doctors.8–10 In Leeds, the ‘raw’ caecal intubation rate for both our nurse endoscopists and consultants is 92% and the average polyp detection index (total number of polyps found/total number of patients) is also virtually identical (34.5 for nurses and 33.5 for consultants).
In view of the reassuring published literature that has become available over the years, I was bemused to read a recent survey from New Zealand in which only 30% of doctors welcomed the introduction of nurse endoscopists.11 A huge majority believed that doctors would always deliver a better quality of endoscopy and that overall costs would spiral out of control if nurses were to be trained in endoscopy. Of course, endoscopy is a valued source of extra income for gastroenterologists in New Zealand, which makes me wonder if this may have had an influence on the outcome of the survey.
Nevertheless, the statistics, reassuring as the may be, do not do nurse endoscopists justice. As a lead endoscopist, it is a relief to have a stable workforce that is fully committed to endoscopy. Most of my gastroenterology colleagues rush between ward rounds and outpatient clinics, phoning patients and their relatives in between. They have little time and energy to invest in endoscopy. By contrast, if an endoscopy list needs back filling, one of our nurse endoscopists will take it on. If an endoscopy audit is required, a nurse endoscopist can make the time. If there is an endoscopy-related problem, a nurse endoscopist will be willing to get involved.
The truth is that without nurse endoscopists, endoscopy services will not be able to make the quantum leap from ‘Cinderella speciality’ to a core hospital service that is on an equal footing with radiology. My advice to any anxious colleagues who worry about the emergence of the nurse endoscopist is to welcome them, because with their help we can make endoscopy bloom!
- Maule WF. Screening for colorectal cancer by nurse endoscopist. NEJM 1994; 330(3):183–187.
- DiSario JA and Sanowski RA. Sigmoidoscopy training for nurses and resident physicians. Gastrointest Endosc 1993; 39(1):29–32.
- Committee on Training, Gross GWW, Bozymski EM, et al. Guidelines for training non-specialists in screening flexible sigmoidoscopy. Gastrointest Endosc 2000;51(6):783–785.
- Barrison IG, Bramble MG, Wilkinson M, et al. Provision of endoscopy related services in district general hospitals: BSG Working Party Report 2001.
- British Society of Gastroenterology. Report of the British Society of Gastroenterology Working Party—The nurse endoscopist. 1994.
- UKCC. The Scope Of Professional Practice. London UKCC 1992.
- Quine MA, Bell GD, McCloy RF, et al. Prospective audit of upper gastrointestinal endoscopy in two regions of England: safety, staffing, and sedation methods. Gut 1995; 36(3):462–467.
- Hui AJ, Lau JY, Lam PPY, et al. Comparison of colonoscopic performance between medical and nurse endoscopists: a non-inferiority randomised controlled study in Asia. Gut 2015; 64(7): 1058–1062.
- Massl R, van Putten PG, Steyerberg EW, et al. Comparing quality, safety, and costs of colonoscopies performed by nurse vs physician trainees. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2014; 12(3): 470–477.
- Schoenfeld P; Lipscomb S; Crook J; et al. Accuracy of polyp detection by gastroenterologists and nurse endoscopists during flexible sigmoidoscopy: a randomized trial. Gastroenterology 1999; 117(2): 312–318.
- Khan MI, Khan R and Owen W. Doctors and the nurse endoscopist issue in New Zealand. NZ Med J 2012; 125(1357): 88–97.