The robots, which are used to help surgeons perform keyhole surgery, have significantly improved outcomes for patients
“Having used the system for the last six months, I would describe it as nothing short of transformative – we are able to perform surgery that is less invasive than ever before but with a level of precision that I never thought possible.” Colin Richards, colorectal consultant at Raigmore Hospital
The introduction of surgical robots has seen NHS Highland reduce the length of hospital stays by half for patients, as well as reduce the risk of post-surgical complications.
The health board bought a DaVinci Xi robotic system in August 2021 for its colorectal unit. Since then, it has introduced the system for use in both gynaecological and urological surgery. It has now been used for nearly 100 robotic-assisted surgeries (RAS).
The average length of hospital stay for those undergoing surgery has been reduced from eight days with conventional surgery to four days for RAS. Fewer patients require critical care post-surgery, with high dependency unit admissions dropping from 70 per cent to less than 10 per cent.
Colin Richards, a colorectal consultant at Raigmore Hospital who led the team carrying out the first robotic surgery last year, said: “Investing in robotics means that patients in NHS Highland now have access to world-class surgical technology and we have already shown that this is making a real and measurable difference to patient outcomes.
“Having used the system for the last six months, I would describe it as nothing short of transformative – we are able to perform surgery that is less invasive than ever before but with a level of precision that I never thought possible.”
The DaVinci system is used to help surgeons carry out keyhole surgery, which uses very small incisions. Instruments are controlled by the surgeon from a console next to the operating table.
Keyhole surgery generally results in better outcomes for patients, including shorter recovery times, but is much more complex for surgeons and requires extensive training. Because it involves a lot of standing and the use of small, precise movements, it also takes a physical toll on surgeons.
The advantage of robots that they require much less training to operate, widening the pool of surgeons able to perform keyhole surgery. It is also less physically demanding.
Investment from both the Scottish government and individual health boards has seen the use of surgical robots significantly increase in Scotland. A year ago the Scottish government announced that it would spend £20m on 10 surgical robots.
The first phase of the rollout will focus on procedures offering the greatest benefits for patients, such as colorectal, gynaecological and urological. Phase two will expand the use of robotic systems to other surgical specialities, including patients with complex benign conditions.
More than six million people are waiting for routine operations on the NHS – a result in part of the long backlog created by the Covid pandemic. There is an urgent need for imaginative solutions that can reduce that backlog. Experience has shown that surgical robots reduce hospital stays, both freeing up hospital beds and improving outcomes for patients. They also require far less investment in training than manual keyhole surgery techniques. Despite the initial hefty outlay, the introduction of robots will ultimately save money and resource for the NHS. This augments and improves current surgical ability and provides better access to treatment.