The Telegraph | Rosie Taylor 1 May 2021
A robot surgeon has joined the team at one NHS hospital to ensure women could get treatment throughout lockdown.
Doctors at Milton Keynes University Hospital are the first in Europe to use the robot to perform gynaecological operations, including cancer surgery.
While some other hospitals cancelled or postponed women’s health procedures during the national lockdowns, surgical treatment has carried on as normal at Milton Keynes since the robot, called Versius, started work in July.
It has now carried out more than 50 operations on women patients, including procedures to remove tumours or reduce cancer risk, hysterectomies and cyst removal.
Versius was initially developed by Cambridge scientists to perform complex keyhole surgery – also known as minimal access surgery – on patients with bowel or urological problems but the hospital is pioneering its use in gynaecology too.
Surgeons in the operating theatre sit at a control desk where they can see inside the patient on a 3D high-definition screen and use a joystick-style panel to control tools in the robot’s arms, which are designed to move like human arms and wrists.
The robot can carry out intricate procedures more precisely than a human hand through a smaller incision. It means patients can avoid having major open surgery, reducing their risk of infection and shortening their recovery time.
“This technology has helped us to give women the procedures they need during lockdown and avoided months of delays, which can be frustrating and worrying for patients” said Dr Nidhi Singh, an obstetrics and gynaecology consultant at the Trust.
The robot allowed Tracey Manning to have surgery despite the country being in lockdown during the height of the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
After being told she was at a high risk of developing cancer the 53-year-old had a total hysterectomy performed by a surgeon using the Versius robot.
Patients who had hysterectomies with the robot only needed to stay in hospital overnight, compared with up to five days after traditional surgery, she explained. They were also likely to be able to fully recover within a few weeks of going home, instead of the normal six to eight-week recovery time.
Ms Manning went home after two nights in hospital. She was off painkillers after 10 days and was completely back to normal within four weeks.
“I was a bit worried about the idea of a robot operating on me at first,” she said. “But I trusted the consultant who told me it would make my recovery much quicker.”
Dr Singh added: “Now that we are doing several of these procedures through keyhole surgery using Versius, patients typically only have an overnight stay in hospital and the recovery thereafter is much quicker too.
“This has meant we’ve been able to carry on treating women throughout the lockdowns and restrictions.” Mark Slack, chief medical officer at CMR Surgical, which designed Versius, said he hoped the technology would enable more patients to benefit from keyhole surgery.
The robot is also being trialled performing gynaecological surgery at three hospitals in India and has treated around 1,000 women worldwide so far.