Imperial College Healthcare first NHS Trust to offer innovative new procedure for severe acid reflux

Surgeons at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust have treated some of the first NHS patients with an innovative new operation for severe acid reflux, otherwise known as gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD).

The first four patients to have the operation on the NHS were treated in September at St Mary’s hospital, with further patients treated in December.  

The operation is minimally invasive keyhole surgery, which means patients can go home and recover more quickly. A small silicone device is implanted on the outside of the upper part of the stomach wall to help restore it to its natural positioning and keep it there. This stops the stomach contents from flowing back up the oesophagus and causing painful symptoms of acid reflux.  

Currently, patients manage their symptoms with medication. If surgery is needed, the procedure that has been available on the NHS until now supports the oesophagus and stomach but can put pressure on the food passageway and is associated with other side effects such as swallowing difficulties, pain and inability to belch and/or vomit.  

The new procedure is a potential option for patients with acid reflux and swallowing issues, where there is currently no alternative treatment option available.   

The new device, called RefluxStop, treats the cause of acid reflux without putting pressure on the food passageway. The first NHS patients to receive it are all making a good recovery, with most eating normally, and have been able to stop taking medication to control their symptoms.  

Approximately 20 per cent of the adult UK population have problems with severe acid reflux. For some, this causes severe pain, regurgitation, swallowing difficulties, cough, asthma, insomnia, voice loss, teeth and gum damage, nutritional problems and depression. 

Mr. Ahmed Ahmed, Consultant in Upper Gastrointestinal Surgery, at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, performed the procedures. He said:  

“Occasional heartburn, or reflux, is a problem that most of us have experienced but GORD is a chronic, long-term disease that doesn't come and go, can last months or years and has a real impact on a patient's quality of life. 

“Patients with GORD often also struggle with natural movement in their oesophagus, making swallowing very difficult. Continuing to take medicines is not always a suitable option for these patients. These drugs can stop working and, because they are often taken in high doses, research studies have linked them with bone weakness, kidney disease and higher risk of gastric cancer.  

“I am delighted that our patients are making a quick recovery and are in the process of getting back to normal. Considering the significant problems some of them had with swallowing their food before their operation, this is a very exciting outcome.” 

Jeff's story 

“I first started to experience symptoms when I was a teenager. In my twenties, the symptoms had got bad enough that I went to my GP and needed to have medication. Things continued to get worse into my thirties so I had to increase the amount I was taking. 

“In general, things were under control with the tablets but if I didn’t take one because I didn’t have them with me or forgot, by about 10am I was in pain and by midday I would feel really awkward with the pain. By dinner time it would be really bad - feeling the acid coming up made it hard to concentrate and enjoy things. I just couldn’t be comfortable. 

“For the last five years, I have had problems when eating - it felt like food wouldn’t digest properly, with acid coming up instead. By about 5pm, I felt like I couldn’t swallow. For me, this became two problems – one with the pain from the acid and the other being that it felt difficult to swallow and digest my food.  

“For the last couple of years, I have found it really uncomfortable to eat a meal. I would go out with my mates still but I couldn’t be comfortable. It was difficult mentally because I wanted to socialise but didn’t feel completely comfortable going out when I didn’t know how much pain I would be in after eating. 

“I went back to my GP and was referred to St Mary’s hospital where they found my acid levels were much higher than they should be and said that surgery would be a good option.  

“The clinical team have been amazing – and because I was a suitable candidate to be offered this new procedure, within a month I was having it done at St Mary’s.  

“I am recovering well from the surgery and have adapted how I eat. The problems I had with acid reflux have completely gone – I was able to see on scans after my surgery that minimal acid is coming up now, which is a relief. I have not taken a tablet since the day before my operation. I can sometimes feel it, but it doesn’t bother me.  

“It’s great to see more being done to develop new treatments and making them available to NHS patients as my condition had been having a significant on my quality of life.”