Opinion: Introduce a national robotics strategy for England to improve care

Richard Hammond

Richard Hammond

Managing Director for Planned Care of East and North Hertfordshire Trust

Richard Hammond, Managing Director for Planned Care of East and North Hertfordshire Trust, discusses the momentum for a nationwide approach to robotics in England.

There has been growing excitement of late about the potential of robotic surgery to help patients, surgeons, and the NHS. What once felt like science fiction, is now used in several localised centres across the UK, and the benefits are only beginning to be realised.

Robotic devices allow surgeons to perform more complex surgeries using keyhole techniques instead of open surgery in a wide range of speciality procedures, including major cancer surgeries, gynaecology and in patients with high BMIs. Patients recover quicker, with less blood-loss, scarring, pain, and infections post-surgery.1 Fewer are admitted to intensive care or readmitted following surgery.2 This means less time in hospital for patients, and means other patients can be seen sooner.

Surgery can be physically demanding, but robotics can help to reduce the physical strain on surgeons, potentially supporting their physical and mental health at a crucial time for the NHS. There is also a positive impact on wellbeing and job satisfaction for the wider team that work with the latest technology.

Growing momentum for change

Surgeons at my hospital, and all over the country, are crying out for robots. We were one of the early adopters of robotic surgery – beginning in 2008 – and now have three robots. But that is not the case everywhere in England, leading to inequalities in 1) access to the best treatment and care for patients and 2) a hospital’s ability to reduce the surgical backlog brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

I’m a radiographer by training, and I remember back in the 1990s having to hold a charitable event to raise money to buy our hospital a CT scanner. At the time, CT scanners only existed in London or big teaching hospitals. The Government eventually realised the huge potential these scanners had for improving diagnosis, treatment and care and launched a national programme to buy CT scanners.

It is inevitable that robotic surgery will become as ubiquitous as CT and MRI scanners are today. We are starting to see this momentum in Wales, who have rolled out a number of Versius robots as part of a national drive to support equal access to innovation across the country.

A national strategy for robotic surgery would be welcomed by the NHS, to support the service to reduce backlogs, free-up beds and reduce health inequalities across England – and make sure that patients don’t miss out.

Versatility to work in all operating rooms

1 Colling KP, Glover JK, Statz CA, Geller MA, Beilman GJ. Abdominal hysterectomy: Reduced risk of surgical site infection associated with robotic and laparoscopic technique. Surg Infect (Larchmt). 2015 Oct;16(5):498-503.
2 Dobson MW, Geisler D, Fazio V, Remzi F, Hull T, Vogel, J. Minimally invasive surgical wound infections: laparoscopic surgery decreases morbidity of surgical site infections and decreases the cost of wound care. Colorectal Dis. 2011 July;13(7):811-5.

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