Number of NHS robotic surgeons set to treble

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

New training in cutting edge robotic technology in Bristol is set to save the lives of thousands more men with prostate cancer in the UK each year.

Robotic surgery is more precise than traditional surgery. Its main advantages are reduction in blood loss, shorter hospital stays and quicker recovery. It may additionally reduce incontinence and erectile dysfunction in patients undergoing prostate surgery.

Thanks to medical charity The Urology Foundation, the number of NHS urologists training in robotic surgery each year will soon treble from six to 20, meaning an extra 2,000 men with prostate cancer could benefit from robotic technology across the UK each year.North Bristol NHS Trust Consultant Urological Surgeon Anthony Koupparis

For the first time, five high volume robotic training centres based in hospitals in four different cities, including Southmead Hospital in Bristol, will join together enabling surgeons to share expertise, thereby delivering improved urology care to patients.

The training centres will be funded by The Urology Foundation - the UK's only medical charity dedicated to improving the nation’s urological health through the investment in cutting-edge research and the training and education of urology professionals.

The project – to establish centres of expertise in robotic urological surgery training in the UK – is thought to be the first of its kind.

Consultant Anthony Koupparis, from Southmead Hospital, said: “Robotics have revolutionised surgery with patients benefitting from more precision and in turn faster recovery, shorter hospital stays and less blood loss. In the past bladder cancer patients would have a massive operation and be in hospital for 14 days but with robotic surgery this has been reduced to a five days. This surgery is having a hugely positive impact - patients are doing really well, suffering from less side effects and getting home very quickly.

“The blood transfusion rate for robotic prostatectomies is 0 per cent but with traditional surgery it can be as high as 25 per cent.  95 per cent of our prostate patients go home the next day.

“The robotics training centre is a great idea – standards of surgery will only go up and up along with the number of young surgeons who are trained to perform it.”

Professor Prokar Dasgupta, Professor of robotic surgery and urological innovation at King’s College London, and honorary consultant urological surgeon at Guy’s Hospital, one of the five hospitals hosting a robotic training centre, said: “This project is incredibly exciting. It is the first time that the combined knowledge and expertise of robotic surgeons across the UK has been shared in this way.

“Robotic training centres often train and develop surgeons within their own establishment, whereas this is a collaborative effort. I’ve never heard of anything like this anywhere in the world and it has certainly not been done before within the UK or European surgery.

“Previously, surgeons wishing to be trained in robot assisted surgery have had to travel abroad which needed effort and investment but now we will have surgeons who are home-grown that can come together to share skills and experience.

“Through the training centres, the number of surgeons that can operate using the robots will increase, so more people will have access to the best quality care.

“We anticipate the number of surgeons being trained in robotics each year will treble while the number of robotic prostatectomies taking place could increase from 5,000 to at least 7,000.”

The urology robot at Southmead Hospital BristolThe Urology Foundation has funded and facilitated the training of over 50 per cent of all robotic surgeons in the UK.

Prostate patients are not the only people to benefit from robotic surgery, it is increasingly being used for bladder operations and patients are now benefitting from robotic kidney surgery too. The robotic training centres will benefit at least an extra 1,000 men and women with kidney and bladder conditions.

Thomas Stephens, 78, from Wroughton, was diagnosed with bladder cancer after noticing blood in his pee – a common symptom. He was found to have four tumours on his bladder and had three removed by traditional surgery and one removed robotically.

He said: “I think it is absolutely marvellous that a robot can do a procedure like this. When I saw the robot I was very impressed - as an engineer myself it was quite fascinating to me watching it manoevure. The robot was so skilful and although it is big, I wasn’t nervous because I was convinced of the necessity of the operation and the benefits of robotic surgery, such as quicker recovery time. Instead of dozens of stitches I had six small incisions and I was amazed how well I felt.

“It is so important to have more people trained in robotics so more people can be operated on this way. I would recommend other people to be treated robotically.”

The five centres will follow a structured training curriculum and have been selected based on their track record in delivering high quality care to patients reflected in reported surgical outcomes, expertise of the individual surgeons in various sub-specialist areas and track record in providing training to fellows or colleagues interested in acquiring robotic skills.

The Urology Foundation’s Centres of Robotic Surgery Training are:

  • Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospitals, King’s College London
  • University College Hospital, London
  • Freeman Hospital, Newcastle
  • Southmead Hospital, Bristol
  • Kent and Canterbury Hospital, Canterbury