The new robots mean that more patients will be treated with minimally invasive surgery, an operation performed using small incisions instead of one large cut. Previously the procedure would have been too risky for many patients, such as those with multiple health conditions. Using the robot means that many more people will now benefit from the surgery as they lose less blood, have a faster recovery with less pain and go home more quickly.
Surgeons have welcomed the greater flexibility and control provided by the da vinci robot through its ability to rotate its arms 360 degrees in seven dimensions, setting it apart from human surgeons. A camera on one of the robot’s arms also gives live 3-dimentional images of the patient’s body, helping the surgeon to see more clearly which improves accuracy and safety.
Using a computer console situated beside the patient, surgeons operate by moving the robot’s ‘arms’ which hold surgical instruments. The surgeon remains in control of the robot at all times using their hands and feet at the console, while a member of the surgical team stays at the patient’s side observing the surgery.
At St Bartholomew’s Hospital, the first patient to be treated welcomed the robot. Chrissie Lefranc, 68 from Hornchurch, had a cyst removed from her left lung at the end of November 2017. Chrissie said: “The team at St Bartholomew’s have been wonderful, I’m so grateful to them and the robot. The cyst could have turned cancerous or leaked putting my life in danger - I was literally living with a time bomb. It’s such a relief to not worry. I’m breathing better and deeper and will even be able to re-join my choir just in time for Christmas.”
The surgeon behind the robot at St Bartholomew's Hospital, Mr Kelvin Lau, said the da vinci will transform care: “Unfortunately some people are too frail for open surgery so, for example, in some cancer cases our only choice would previously have been radiotherapy which isn’t as effective as surgery. The da vinci suddenly expands 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.”
The hospital’s da vinci robot is the only device in the UK dedicated to treating the heart, lungs and chest. Aiming to use the robot in 40 per cent of the 1500 operations performed each year, the robot is the first step towards an ambitious robotics centre being built at the hospital.
Teams at The Royal London Hospital aim to use its da vinci robot on 500 patients across each year by 2020 across six specialities: gynae-oncology, urology, colorectal, hepatobiliary, transplant and head and neck surgery.
Fiona Miller-Smith, Chief Executive at Barts Charity said: “I’m delighted that Barts Charity has brought surgical robots to The Royal London and St Bartholomew’s Hospitals. This extraordinary technology will benefit hundreds of patients and embodies our ongoing commitment to funding innovation.”