Two years of success for our surgical robots

15 Nov 2019

Over 750 patients have benefited from robotic surgery at The Royal London and St Bartholomew’s Hospitals since the equipment was introduced two years ago.  

Robotic surgery is not yet standard across the NHS and it was our £5.1m funding which made it possible to bring the robots to Barts Health NHS Trust.

The robots have been used for a number of UK firsts, including the first robotic insertion of a peritoneal dialysis catheter to help patients with end stage kidney failure. St Bartholomew’s Hospital has the only robot in the UK dedicated to cardiothoracic (heart, chest and lungs) surgery, while The Royal London’s is being shared across a unique group of six different surgical specialties for the first time.

Now that the technology has been bedded in, surgeons will begin to take on more complex cases, like patients with a high BMI who previously wouldn’t have been able to have keyhole surgery.

A happy patient

Janice from Rainham recently had a hysterectomy using the surgical robot at The Royal London Hospital. The 79-year old was diagnosed with cancer of the womb following an earlier procedure to remove polyps, but after her robotic operation to remove her womb she’s now cancer-free. She says: When I was told robots, I had visions of Star Wars until Miss Brockbank explained it to me. But it was absolutely wonderful, it’s a shame all hospitals can’t be equipped. 

Janice Mert, robotic surgery patientI had my surgery 5 weeks ago, and I’ve just been showing my friend the scars.  I can barely see them, they are very very faint and they are very very tiny. I had no pain afterwards whatsoever, I was quite surprised. I only experienced pain once and that was when someone spoke to me and I turned round too quickly and I got a twinge of a pulled stitch. 

I can’t praise the team enough, it was absolutely wonderful. Miss Brockbank is a lovely person. She cuddled me as I left and we both said in the best possible way “I hope I don’t see you again”.

Teaching and learning

The robotic programme across Barts Health is benefitting from the established research partnerships with Queen Mary University of London and surgeons are collaborating to develop new techniques and better understanding.

A number of clinical trials are underway using the robots and the surgical teams are upskilling fellow specialists across the globe - this year they will present at conferences in Barcelona and New York.

How it works

Although surgical robots sound like they belong in sci-fi film, they’re actually controlled by human surgeons. Tiny incisions are made for the robots’ arms which hold miniature tools and a camera. The surgeon sits away from the patient at a control console, immersed in live 3D images from the camera and controlling the tiny tools using their hands and feet. This allows for extremely precise and delicate surgery.

Benefits for patients

These less invasive techniques mean significant advantages for patients, including:

  • shorter stays in hospital; even patients undergoing major cancer surgery can now be discharged home on the same day or just one day after surgery
  • less post-operative pain and minimal scarring
  • fewer complications after operations, with patients returning to pre-operative levels of health faster
  • reduced blood loss and less need for blood transfusions
  • previously inoperable patients to be treated

A surgeon’s perspective

Mr Kelvin Lau, consultant and lead for thoracic surgery at Barts Health NHS Trust pictured at the console) says: “The Da Vinci robot has expanded the number of people able to have surgery, as well as proving particularly effective in those who have tumours in places that are difficult to reach. The technology is a completely new experience for me and the clinical advantages are breath-taking. I am incredibly grateful to Barts Charity for making this possible.” 

Main image: Miss Elly Brockbank. Pictured right: robotic surgery at St Bartholomew's Hospital

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