A NORTH-EAST hospital has become the first in the UK to perform a new endoscopic procedure for NHS patients with serious digestive problems.

The minimally-invasive outpatient procedure was carried out for the first time in the UK at the James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough.

Known as Stretta therapy it offers an alternative to surgery for patients who suffer from chronic gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD).

GORD is a common condition where acid from the stomach leaks out of the stomach and up into gullet causing symptoms such as heartburn, acid reflux and difficulty swallowing.

The condition can usually be treated with medication but where this is not effective selected patients can now be offered Stretta therapy instead of conventional surgery. Stretta therapy uses a special tube (catheter) to deliver radiofrequency energy to the muscle tissues in the lower part of the gullet (area of gastro-oesophaegeal junction). This strengthens the muscle tissue to prevent the reflux occurring.

The procedure takes less than an hour and does not require any incisions, stitches or implants so patients can return to normal activities the following day.

Consultant Mr Yks Viswanath, who specialises in upper GI surgery, performed the Middlesbrough hospital’s first endoscopic anti-reflux therapy in early October after undergoing advanced training in France and the USA and purchasing a special catheter from CJ Medical.

He said: “Stretta therapy was approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence in selected patients over 12 months ago and since then I have been very enthusiastic about bringing this advanced endoscopic treatment to James Cook.

“It’s a nice feeling to be the first to offer this service to NHS patients in the UK. It’s fantastic for our patients because they recover much faster and the therapy can offer significant symptom relief for up to 10 years with better quality of life. It is a proud moment to share both for the NHS as a whole and South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.”

Clinical director of gastroenterology Dr John Greenaway added: “This is a very welcome addition to the services we provide at James Cook for a condition that affects a large number of the patients we see.”