A colonoscopy can help to diagnose a whole range of gastrointestinal symptoms, but what does the procedure involve? If you're currently waiting for an NHS appointment, the thought of going private might be in your mind. Therefore, this post explains what it costs and what to expect.
A colonoscopy is a procedure which uses a camera attached to a thin, flexible tube to look inside your large intestine, also known as your colon or large bowel. It's used where medical screening or your physical symptoms have shown a need for further investigation. It's one of a range of diagnostic tests that can also include other endoscopy procedures.
There are several reasons why you might be referred for a colonoscopy procedure.
The national bowel cancer screening programme sends home testing kits to people between 60 and 74. You use it to collect samples of your poo; if these show signs of blood, you may be offered a colonoscopy.
Colonoscopy procedures are used to investigate the following symptoms:
These symptoms may be a sign of small growths in your bowel, known as colon polyps. These are usually harmless but can develop into bowel cancers if left untreated.
Your bowel symptoms could also be a sign of other conditions:
Colonoscopy procedures allow your doctor to perform biopsies and remove polyps to give you a diagnosis.
If you need an investigation into your bowel problems, here's why a private colonoscopy may be the right choice for you.
If you've had an initial consultation with your GP or a consultant gastroenterologist, you may already know that you'll be facing a bit of a wait. Many bowel conditions, including bowel cancer, benefit from early intervention, so a private appointment lets you be seen and get an accurate diagnosis sooner.
You can choose which consultant gastroenterologist you see in the NHS, but private healthcare offers you a wider choice. You can choose a private hospital that's close to home or which has expertise in bowel symptoms. You can often also opt to see your NHS consultant privately.
Private healthcare companies invest heavily in the latest technologies and treatments. While it's not guaranteed, access to the newest equipment can make the procedure more comfortable and help you to recover quickly afterwards.
Bowel cancer is the fourth most common type of cancer in the UK. Some NHS screening starts from the age of 55. However, private treatment allows you to opt for early screening if you have a family history of bowel cancer.
The NHS regularly publish statistics detailing waiting times for elective (or non-emergency) treatments and their performance against Government guidelines. Whilst these aren't broken down into individual procedures, the latest statistics show that 63.5% of people were waiting up to 18 weeks, so Government targets aren't currently being met.
The average cost of a private colonoscopy in the UK is currently £2,200 (August 2023).
Private healthcare costs vary depending on many different factors. The most significant is the location of your chosen hospital. Bills, rents and staffing costs are all higher in major cities, particularly central London. You may want to see the best consultant gastroenterologist, but their expertise will come at a premium.
As we've mentioned, the cost of a colonoscopy in a private hospital varies dramatically across the country.
Location and the Average Procedure Cost:
You can read more about the costs of private healthcare in the UK and the factors that influence them here.
A standard colonoscopy uses a camera on a flexible tube called a colonoscope. It's a flexible telescope that goes into your bottom and large bowel, although it's long enough to go into your small intestine if necessary.
A virtual colonoscopy uses a CT scanner to take several images and create a 3D image of your large bowel. It can't be used for biopsies or to remove colon polyps.
A barium enema is an alternative procedure that uses a dye to highlight your large bowel. A radiographer will then take a series of x-rays to examine your colon.
You can choose to pay for your colonoscopy in several different ways. This can cover your initial consultation with a consultant gastroenterologist to discuss your treatment options and the procedure itself.
This is the simplest way to pay if you have the funds available. You can choose your hospital and then book your initial consultation or contact them for a quote. You'll be asked to pay a deposit, and they'll send you an invoice for the balance later.
If you don't have a lump sum available, you can pay in instalments with a medical loan. Many healthcare companies have a partnership with loan companies, allowing you to spread the cost with 0% interest over a few months.
If you have private health insurance, you may be able to use it to fund your colonoscopy. You'll need to have outpatient cover on your policy, which isn't typically offered as standard.
Your insurers may refuse coverage if you've had bowel problems in the past, as pre-existing conditions are automatically excluded. This could be for something as simple as visiting your GP with constipation or stomach cramps.
Private healthcare lets you choose the hospital that best suits your needs, whether a hospital close to home or with specific facilities.
You can gather information from a hospital's website and marketing information but it's also worth looking at patient review sites to find out what other patients have said about their experiences. You can learn more about this in our guide to choosing a private consultant.
Initially, your doctor will ask about your medical history and general health. Some medications, such as iron tablets, can affect your results so you'll need to stop taking them.
You'll also need to clear your bowel, so you'll be given a laxative.
If you're having a virtual colonoscopy, you'll need to follow a special diet, including eating low-fibre foods.
On the day you'll be given a hospital gown to wear and offered a sedative or gas and air to make you more comfortable. You'll feel drowsy but will stay awake.
You'll be asked to lie on your left side and bend your knees up. The endoscopist will examine you and insert the camera into your back passage using lubrication. They'll use air to inflate your bowel, which may make you feel bloated, then move the camera to examine your colon lining and identify any small lumps or other issues. They'll be able to see what's happening on a video screen.
The endoscopist may take some samples of body tissue or remove polyps.
If you're very uncomfortable or in pain, let your endoscopist know.
A radiographer typically carries out a virtual colonoscopy. They'll give you an injection to help your muscles relax and may inject you with a dye to make your scan images clearer. They'll also use air to expand your bowel.
Next, they'll take CT scans to create a 3D image. You'll start off lying on your back before turning onto your front.
You'll feel drowsy afterwards, so you'll be monitored for a few hours until the sedative has worn off. It's a good idea to ask a friend or family member to drive you home and stay with you until the following day.
Your doctor may tell you how the procedure went, whether they took a biopsy or removed any polyps. You can expect to wait up to two weeks for your results which will be sent to the doctor who referred you. Your doctor will contact you to discuss any follow-up care or further tests you might need. If a virtual colonoscopy found polyps, you may need a procedure to remove them.
As you recover, you may feel bloated or have cramping pain. If you've had polyps removed, you could also experience some bleeding, but this should stop after a day or two. If you feel tired, it's essential to rest and avoid driving or drinking alcohol until you feel better.
Research has helped to make colonoscopy procedures more effective and comfortable for patients who need to have them.
Over the past few years, research has tested using water-assisted insertion to make colonoscopies less uncomfortable and give better results. They've found that this makes the colonoscopy less painful for patients and provides a clearer image.
Detecting and removing polyps is a vital part of a colonoscopy, so studies have looked at ways to improve this. Research has found that using a device called an Endocuff improved the endoscopist's ability to find polyps and also shortened the length of time the procedure took. This means less time in the hospital and a reduced likelihood that you'll need a follow-up colonoscopy.
A colon capsule endoscopy is a relatively new procedure that isn't widely available. In a colon capsule endoscopy, you swallow a capsule that contains a miniature video camera. You can then carry on as usual as the capsule moves through your system and captures images your doctor can see on screen.
A colonoscopy procedure is generally low risk - however, there are some potential complications.
On rare occasions, the colonoscope may tear the inner lining of your bowel, and you'll need surgery to repair it. It's common to have some bleeding afterwards, but you may need a blood transfusion if this persists.
Sometimes the sedative can cause breathing problems; your doctor will monitor and treat you if this happens.
Private healthcare groups operate hospitals offering colonoscopies across the UK. You can find independent information from the Care Quality Commission (CQC), responsible for inspecting and maintaining standards in hospitals in England, and from patient review sites.
Nuffield Health is one of the UK's largest healthcare groups, with 36 hospitals in the UK - you can access a colonoscopy at 31 of them.
Ramsay Health has focused on offering patient-focused healthcare since it opened its first hospital in 1968. They offer colonoscopies at 29 of their hospitals in England.
Spire operates 39 hospitals and eight clinics in the UK; some offer access to NHS patients. You can find out more and search for a clinic offering colonoscopy procedures near you on their website.
Circle Health has 54 private hospitals in locations the length and breadth of the UK. You can find details of their consultant gastroenterologists and book your initial consultation direct by visiting their website.
HCA is a US-based healthcare company operating in the UK since 1995. They have locations in London and Manchester - however, they only currently offer colonoscopies in London. They're available at nine sites, including the London Digestive Centre and two specialist endoscopy centres. You can also have a virtual colonoscopy at one of 6 sites. Find out more here.
Disclaimer: This information is general and what is best for you will depend on your personal circumstances. Please speak with a financial adviser or do your own research before making a decision.
There are currently 6.6 million people waiting for non-emergency treatment with the NHS. Around 300,000 have waited over a year, and 8,000 have waited over two years. However, we can't say how many of those are waiting for a colonoscopy procedure.
The average cost of a private colonoscopy in the UK is currentl £2,200 (August 2023).
Yes. If you have private health insurance, it may cover the costs, alternatively, you can choose a private hospital, book an appointment and pay them directly.
You may need a colonoscopy test if you have symptoms, including bleeding from your bottom, constipation, diarrhoea or unexplained weight loss.
Your doctor may also want to investigate a health condition affecting your bowel.
A colonoscopy can be uncomfortable, but you'll be offered a sedative to ease this. A virtual colonoscopy uses a CT scan, so it is less painful. However, you may still feel bloated and tired afterwards because of the medication used as part of the procedure.