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Professor Mike Thomson: why donating endoscopes in Zambia can improve patient outcomes

09 July 2024

A consultant paediatrician at Sheffield Children’s has been supporting patients and families on an international scale by delivering endoscopes to the University Teaching Hospital’s Children’s Hospital in Lusaka, Zambia.

Professor Mike Thomson, Senior Consultant part of the Gastroenterology team at Sheffield Children’s which specialises in conditions affecting your digestive system, travelled to Zambia to donate the endoscopes whilst delivering training there.

Mike had previously spent time in Zambia, working and volunteering at the National Children’s Hospital, but had not been back for 30 years. After sourcing out leftover endoscopes at Sheffield Children’s, Mike wanted to make sure that they were put to good use. Mike said: “I realised that we had a number of endoscopes that we had stopped using at Sheffield Children’s. So, rather than letting them go to waste, we checked with the hospital in Zambia, and they were happy for us to take them over! We were able to take the endoscopes out and train some doctors on a special endoscopy course that we had organised at the same time.”

An endoscopy is a procedure that involves an endoscope, a long, thin tube fitted with a small camera, to observe and examine a patient’s stomach and intestines from the inside. Working as part of the Sheffield Children’s Gastroenterology team, Mike performs endoscopies to diagnose and make treatment decisions for conditions involving the stomach, pancreas, liver, and intestines. As a result, Mike understands the importance of having access to endoscopes, and was keen to make sure that these were readily available in Zambia.

Two colleagues hold endoscopes and smile whilst in Zambia.

Having worked at Sheffield Children’s for over two decades, Mike has led the development of Sheffield Children’s as an international training centre for endoscopy and is always enthusiastic to share knowledge and expertise with other healthcare organisations across the world. Mike said: “As an international training centre for endoscopy for children, we do a lot of planning and training to support and train people from all over the world! My main role is leading that, overseeing and delivering training myself. On top of this, I also do a lot of clinics with inpatients too. It’s really rewarding being able to support patients and families by performing non-invasive surgery. We’re a national and international centre for referrals with children travelling with their families from all over the UK and Europe, so it’s also really rewarding to be leading the way in this field.

Mike said: “Having access to endoscopes is so important to solving gastroenterological problems. Endoscopes give medical professionals the ability to make diagnoses by examining bits of the lining of the bowel non-invasively. We were able to support the team at the Children’s Hospital in Zambia in doing this by donating these endoscopes. It’s really beneficial for the whole community, and we’re hopeful that with the proper training we can really start to see some effective outcomes.”

“Sheffield Children’s is expanding all over the world, which is excellent to see! As a National and European centre of excellence for training, we have delivered training all across Europe and in some parts of Asia including India, too. This trip to Zambia gave us a chance to add an extra continent to add to our belt. In October, we’re also going to Nepal to deliver training, which we’re really excited about.”

Based on the positive feedback that they have received from professionals at the Children’s Hospital in Zambia, Mike and his team are looking to repeat this every year Mike said: “It was really important that we got these endoscopes to Zambia. We realised that they didn’t actually have very many at the Children’s Hospital that we visited, so we really wanted to support them in any way that we could. The delivery of endoscopes has massively expanded their ability to do crucial diagnostic tests and non-invasive surgery on patients who need it. By also delivering training during our trip, the idea is that we have also given them the skills to hone their ability to do diagnostic endoscopies, too!

“Because of the success of this trip, we’re really looking to do this again at least yearly. They’re really keen for us to support them, and we would love to continue supporting healthcare professionals across the world. Everything that we do is built on bringing on the next generation of trainees and has a knock-on effect on supporting our children here too!”

We’d like to give Mike a huge Sheffield Children’s thank you for sharing his story with us and can’t wait to see this partnership continue to flourish.

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