NHS hails next generation of surgical robots to help treat bowel cancer
20 February 2020, 07:04
The Versius robot surgery system has been adopted by two hospitals in England and Scotland, which could reduce patient recovery times and pain.
Next generation surgical robots have been hailed by doctors as “a leap forward in surgical precision” in the UK.
Western General Hospital in Edinburgh was first to use the new Versius robotic arm technology in Europe, followed by Milton Keynes University Hospital NHS Trust in Buckinghamshire.
The tool is used to perform minimal access surgery – also known as keyhole or laparoscopic surgery – and could reduce patient recovery times and pain.
It is initially being used to perform a range of colorectal surgeries, helping to treat those with bowel disease or bowel cancer.
Versius mimics a human arm, working in a similar way to a computer games console, with the ability to move and rotate its “wrists” in a unique fashion.
CMR Surgical, the British medical firm behind the technology, says the development could cut the need for one additional doctor during operations, freeing up stretched NHS staff to carry out care elsewhere.
“It is a leap forward in surgical precision meaning patients recover faster and ultimately get home sooner,” said Doug Speake, consultant colorectal surgeon at NHS Lothian.
“It is better for the patients and it is actually better for us.”
NHS Lothian has already treated around 30 patients using the technology since November.
Lord Prior, NHS England chair, said: “It’s fantastic that the NHS is the first in Europe to use the next generation of surgical robots, and yet another example of how the NHS is teaming up with Britain’s excellent engineering sector to deliver world class care.”
CMR Surgical says the two NHS sites could be used to carry out as many as 700 minimal access surgeries each year.
The company’s chief medical officer Mark Slack told the PA news agency it is already in talks with other NHS trusts about deploying the tool more widely.
“We will have more than a handful on the NHS by the end of the year,” he said.
Versius features three or four independent arms, as well as 3D visualisation and instrument controls, which allow the surgeon to mimic their own human movement and make it less strenuous.
Its portability means it can be transported between hospitals within an NHS trust.
Professor Alastair Campbell became one of the first patients in Europe to undergo a ‘re-section’ procedure with Versius during an operation in November.
The 81-year-old had the operation in the Western General Hospital, after medical investigations identified a polyp, which could have been a sign of a very early stage of colon cancer.
Within weeks, Prof Campbell went on to have a section of his colon removed and rejoined as part of a procedure carried out using the Versius robot.
The cost of the equipment has not been revealed but CMR Surgical says it is made to be cost-effective for NHS hospitals.
Richard Kerr, from the Royal College of Surgeons of England (RCS), said: “Robotic assistance lies at the heart of future surgical techniques, and has great potential to enable more patients to benefit from ‘keyhole’ surgery with faster recovery times.
“However, there is a risk that the NHS is rushing ahead with robotics without a clear plan for ensuring equity of access, and quality training for the clinical teams charged with using them.
“A national strategy for rolling out robotics, ensuring it’s clear where robots are, how they are being used, and progress against training requirements was a key recommendation of our Commission on the Future of Surgery. It is now becoming urgent.
“While patients and professionals alike will welcome the advances being made at Milton Keynes, we want to see the Department for Health take a more hands-on approach, ensuring that amazing technology like this is available all round the country.”