NHS Grampian has unveiled three new surgical robots as part of a £3.5 million investment in improving patient care and reducing waiting times in the region.
Medics in the north-east were the first at a board in Scotland to have a robotic-assisted surgical system in 2015, and since then have seen improved and shorter recovery times for those who are operated on using them.
The latest cutting-edge surgical technology, two new da Vinci Xi robots, and a Mako Robotic-Arm Assisted Surgery System for orthopaedic joint replacement surgery, comes as NHS Grampian moves to increase capacity, as it looks to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic to treat more patients more quickly.
Shafaque Shaikh, consultant in colorectal and general surgery, said: "On average, patients should have shorter hospital stays following robotic-assisted surgery, quicker recovery times, they need less pain control and less anaesthetic – all of these factors benefit individual patients.
"More widely it benefits everyone in the region, as with people in hospital less time, it increases our capacity and allows us to see more patients.
"This investment, in cutting-edge technology, really ensures we can give our patients the best experience and that myself and my fellow surgeons have the most modern tools available to do our job. It also equips us to partner with the University of Aberdeen to develop ground-breaking research, further improving patient care in the future.” "
Urology consultant Justine Royle said: "Surgeons have been using our first da Vinci robot for the last six years and in that time we’ve really seen a benefit for our patients.
"Since becoming the first territorial board to start using these machines we have really seen the advantages and have striven to place ourselves as a centre of excellence within Scotland with this technology. It’s all an investment in the future of our patients and NHS Grampian.
"The setting and equipment it provides really is ideal for developing and honing skills that are going to become more and more desirable and, indeed, necessary in the future.
"Some patients do still arrive in hospital apprehensive, believing that the machine is doing all the work using artificial intelligence, but the machines are very much controlled by our surgeons – they don’t ‘think’ and operate on their own, it’s no different from a car in that sense, we are fully in control."
The region’s original device - which will now be used for training surgeons - has been used for urology and gynaecology patients since 2015. The latest additions will allow NHS Grampian to increase its robotic surgery offering to cover general surgery and other sub-specialities over time as well as developing other specialities.
Alan Black, 59, from Aberdeen, was the first patient to be operated on with one of the new machines last week.
He said: "I was operated on with the robot, it’s smaller holes needed, so I think I’m feeling better than I could have otherwise.
"If anyone is worried about undergoing surgery where a robot is used, there’s nothing to be apprehensive about. The surgeon is still in full control and ultimately it benefits us as patients.
"I feel, actually, quite fine. I’m not totally pain free, my abdomen is still stiff, but I seem to be OK. Ms Shaik was in charge of it all and has been into the ward every day to see me.
"The level of care has been exceptional - you can’t fault anything."
Two new da Vinci robotic-assisted surgical systems are based at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary with the Mako system at Woodend Hospital, to be used on hip and knee replacement patients.
Cameron Matthew, deputy chief officer of acute, said: "The hope is we will be able to develop a regional training centre and specialist robotic division. That in turn will hopefully attract robotic fellows to Aberdeen before they move on to substantive posts elsewhere, or indeed they decide to stay in the north-east.
"These machines will provide a boost to our waiting times and that is vital, especially as we move out of Covid-19 and look to tackle our waiting lists and we now have the best technology available to do that. As a health board, in getting these robots, we have ensured that the best tech is there to helps us come out of Covid.”"