£5.5m Barts Charity funding brings robotic surgery to Barts Health

04 Dec 2017

Surgeons at St Bartholomew’s Hospital and The Royal London Hospital are now operating using robotic surgery after £5.5m Barts Charity funding.

A surgeon at the console of one of the robots Surgeons' briefing about the robot Surgeons at The Royal London Hospital with one of the robots

In a first for the UK, St Bartholomew’s has the only robot dedicated to cardiothoracic (heart, chest and lungs) surgery, while The Royal London’s is being shared across six different medical specialties for the first time.

The first patients have had operations using the new machines, including the first patient in the UK to undergo cardiothoracic surgery using a robotic arm – in this case the excision of a left mediastinal mass (removal of a lump in the middle of the chest).

Mr Kelvin Lau, the surgeon who led the procedure, said “it was successfully done through a robot with incisions no larger than 1cm; it went very well, and the patient is doing well.”

Minimal scarring and many more positive results

One of the key impacts robotic surgery brings to patients is the relatively tiny incisions that are made; with the robots they can be as small as 5mm, enabling extremely precise and delicate surgery that has only previously been possible with open surgery.

These less invasive techniques mean significant advantages for patients, including:

  • Reduced blood loss
  • Less pain
  • Fewer complications after operations
  • Less time spent in hospital
  • More patients able to be treated

Time spent in hospital for patients after operations will decrease by as much as 50%.

Robotic surgery: How does it work?

Rather than traditional surgery where the surgeon stands over the patient, with robotic surgery the surgeon sits at a console away from the patient, with a surgical assistant at the operating table.

The robot works under the control of the operating surgeon, who views live 3D images of the patient’s inner organs through the console.

The surgeon manipulates the camera and miniature instruments inside the patient’s body, which is why such precise and delicate procedures are now possible.

A UK-first for St Bartholomew’s Hospital

Robotic surgery is not yet standard within the NHS, but there are several in use across London and the UK.

In a UK first, however, our funding has enabled the specialist Barts Heart Centre team at St Bartholomew’s to dedicate their robot solely to cardiothoracic surgery. Covering a population of three million, staff estimate the robot will be used for as many as 480 thoracic surgical cases each year – 40% of their current surgical cases – which is a huge development for both patients and staff.

It will also enable staff to treat up to 21% more patients at the hospital.

Mr Lau spoke more about how the robot will transform care:

“Unfortunately some people are too frail for open surgery, so for some cancer cases our only choice would previously have been radiotherapy which isn’t as effective as surgery. The Da Vinci suddenly expands the number of people able to have surgery, as well as proving particularly effective in those who have tumours in places that are difficult to reach.

“The technology is a completely new experience for me and the clinical advantages are breath-taking. I am incredibly grateful to Barts Charity for making this possible.”

Breaking new ground for The Royal London Hospital

A second robot is also now in action at The Royal London, with the first patients having undergone urological and colorectal surgery.

Here, the robot will span six medical specialties in a multi-disciplinary team covering gynae-oncology, urology, colorectal, hepatobiliary, transplant, and head and neck. The collective strength of this unique collaboration across different surgical specialties will drive huge improvements for patients.

As many as 500 patients per year will be treated using the robot at The Royal London by 2020.

Leading the way in research and care

The robotic programme across Barts Health will also benefit from the established research partnerships with Queen Mary University of London (QMUL).

St Bartholomew’s and The Royal London will be at the forefront of clinical care as well as research within the area of robotics – helping to develop new techniques and better treatment for patients.

Better treatment, more patients, better outcomes

Our Chief Executive Fiona Miller Smith commented: “I’m delighted that Barts Charity has brought surgical robots to St Bartholomew’s and The Royal London. This extraordinary technology will make huge differences to patients – and staff – and we’re proud to be playing our part in this.”

The new robots will ultimately play a critical role in ensuring every patient who requires surgery stands the best chance of survival as well as excellent outcomes post-surgery.

Pictured: Surgical team at St Bartholomew's after the first procedure using the robot (main picture); a surgeon at the controlling console of the robot; a surgical briefing about the robot; surgeons at The Royal London celebrating the arrival of the robot.

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