Robotic surgery coming to Watford General for the first time

Health bosses are investing in two robotic systems.

By Deborah Price, Local Democracy Reporter
Wednesday, 9th March 2022, 2:02 pm
A surgeon at the console of the system. PIC: cmrsurgical.
A surgeon at the console of the system. PIC: cmrsurgical.

Health bosses in west Hertfordshire have agreed to invest in a robotic surgery system - bringing robotic surgery to Watford General for the first time.

The hi-tech system will allow trained surgeons to operate using a joystick on a console - rather than manually manoeuvring tools at the patient's side.

And as well as being comfortable for surgeons, medics say it will benefit patients too - reducing blood loss, pain and the length of their hospital stay.

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A three-arm Versius setup. PIC: cmrsurgical.

The decision to invest in TWO 'Versius' robotic systems was made by a meeting of the West Herts Hospitals Trust board on March 3.

At that meeting it was reported to board members that in the past robotic surgery had had to be restricted due to cost, theatre size and the need to reinforce the ceilings of operating theatres to accommodate the fixed robotic arms.

But it was reported that newer fully transportable systems - more compact in size - no longer required any work to hospitals.

And the stand-alone devices, it was reported, could be used for a greater number of patients - across a greater range of surgical procedures.

Consultant colectoral surgeon Mr Vanash Patel

At the meeting the board had initially been asked to back a bid to fund ONE robotic surgical system - at a cost of £1.44m over seven years.

And it was reported that by 2025 it would allow the Trust to perform 350 surgical procedures a year - in areas such as colectoral surgery, gynaecology, urology and upper GI.

But the board opted to increase the investment in order to have TWO 'Versius' robotic systems - which will ultimately enable up to 700 robotic procedures a year.

The Trust has since declined to say how much they will be paying for two.

Without the investment it was reported to the board that by the end of the year (2022) the Trust would be one of the only Trusts in the area without a robotic surgical system.

And it was reported that this could impact on the Trust's ability to recruit and retain surgical trainees and consultants.

Following the meeting, the decision of the 'forward-thinking' board was welcomed by consultant colectoral surgeon Vanash Patel.

And he suggested that as a result the Trust was set to become 'one of the UK's leading robotic centres'.

He said that previously the cost had been prohibitive - with systems often purchased for hospitals through fund-raising or donations.

But he pointed to the rapid development in robotic systems in the past five years, which are modular and can be moved between theatres.

And he suggested they are becoming 'a necessity' in order to maintain services and attract staff - as well as pointing to the better outcomes for patients.

With 720-degree articulation, he says the system can be rotated round and round - so that it can reach areas that couldn't otherwise be reached

And that accuracy, he says, means less trauma to the tissue and less pain and - with that - earlier discharge.

He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that he is 'ecstatic' with the board's decision to opt for two robotic systems, rather than one - saying it shows how forward-thinking the exec team at the Trust is.

And he said: "I think with two robots we can really speed up this innovation."

Along with the purchase of the robotic systems will be extensive training for the surgeons and theatre teams.