Dressed head-to-toe in surgical scrubs, I followed my guide into theatre to meet a £1million robot.
Casting aside any Tomorrow’s World TV misconceptions, this visit to Leeds Children’s Hospital was to prove a first look at a new piece of equipment that is helping to revolutionise keyhole surgery for children on an international level.
Clarendon Wing at Leeds General Infirmary, which houses Leeds Children’s Hospital, has set the precedent across Europe for practicing robotic surgery on children. Its importance became immediately apparent.
Sloping into an active theatre at lunchtime wearing blue scrubs, a hair cap and white rubber sandals, the intensity of sterilised theatre was made clear by the handful of staff keen to whisk me in and out of the room as soon as possible.
They were in the middle of a day of operations using the new Da Vinci robot that has been in action only a matter of months after an anonymous donor stumped up the funds so that it could replace an existing robot.
Senior paediatric surgeon at Leeds, Azad Najmaldin, is credited with introducing and popularising robotic surgery on children in the UK and Europe when Leeds was the first UK centre to have a dedicated children’s robot in 2006.
He took the controls of the new model, which is a two-part machine that allows a surgeon to take the lead on operations by peering into a magnified high definition viewfinder and moving joysticks and foot pedals. Those immensely sensitive controls remotely move surgical instruments on a robot on the other side of theatre – every move intuitive and precise.
“As well as enhancing the precision of surgeons, the robot gives them a more comfortable working environment, with better vision and control during the operation,” he said.
“It potentially widens the type of procedures that can be done by keyhole surgery, and the latest model we are now using is even more precise and gives better control to the surgeon.”
Multiple hours stood over a patient under the ultra white hospital lights, working through a small ‘keyhole’ opening in a tiny patient can be incredibly testing physically and mentally.
As a result the advent of a robot that allows a surgeon to be seated, comfortable and have even more precise control over instruments is good news for all concerned.
Mr Najmaldin added: “Sometimes it can be difficult on the surgeon in operations as we can’t reach certain parts because of the posture you have to take.
“Keyhole in general is definitely a superior way of operating on any patient but the use of a robot is still uncommon – even in adults.”
ANONYMOUS DONOR BEHIND ROBOT
A generous donation of £1million to the Leeds Children’s Hospital Appeal has paid for its new surgical robot.
Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust is one of only a small number of centres in the country to have two surgical robots, and the only centre outside London to have a robot earmarked solely for sick children.
Edward Ziff, chair of the Leeds Teaching Hospitals Charitable Foundation, said: “I want to say a huge public thank you to the donor, they could not have chosen a better cause.”