Chelsea hospital hoping for benefits of surgical robot

How would you feel about a robot operating on your child? The idea, actually, is not as menacing as it sounds.

A London hospital is hoping to be one of the first in the country to obtain a revolutionary "surgical robot" to perform critical operations on children.

The Da Vinci robot is an advanced keyhole procedure that helps surgeons eliminate potential human problems, such as hand tremor.

The massive bulk of the robot allows its arms to manoeuvre better than the human hand in open surgery than current techniques.

Several Da Vinci robots are being used in the UK at the moment for adult operations but Chelsea and Westminster Hospital say it would be one of just two in the country to be used in a dedicated fashion for operations on children.

The hospital will need to raise over £1m from private donations for the high tech equipment which would be part of a new planned extension to their children's unit.

Celebrities such as Barbara Windsor and Sophie Ellis Bextor are among those who will be attending a special launch to fund raise for the robot on Wednesday, 29 June.

Robot operations

Leeds General Infirmary is the only other hospital in the UK that uses the robot to operate on children.

Image caption Louie had successful surgery with the aid of the Da Vinci Robot

BBC London was shown how the robot worked on nine-year-old Louie Trevelyan-Lowe who was undergoing an operation to reduce blockage in his left kidney.

"It is a bit scary at first but then you get used to it and it makes me better," Louie told BBC London just before being operated on successfully.

The surgeon, Azmad Najmaldin, sits at a computer console seeing the operation through a large microscope which offers a clear 3D close up view of Louie's nerves, blood vessels and muscles.

He performed the operation with the help of four robotic arms that are inserted into Louie's abdomen.

In theory, he does not even have to be in the same room.

Mr Najmaldin said: "When I was a trainee we used to get by doing operations with big cuts and blood all over the place.

"It was very normal for a patient to have a wound infection or a hernia after surgery but now these things are very, very rare because of advances in surgery and technology."

Quicker recovery

Although Chelsea and Westminster hospital will need to fund the purchase of the robot from private donations, running it would come from the NHS budget.

Some critics have said this kind of hugely expensive equipment is a luxury in a time of massive cost cutting in the NHS.

However, senior surgeon Munther Haddad, of Chelsea and Westminster says the purchase of such equipment would be "hugely beneficial" for children's survival and recovery following major operations.

The small incisions made by the robot also help to minimise blood loss - as little as a couple of teaspoons. Doctors say that patients can be discharged quicker, reducing bed blocking.

Mr Haddad said: "The use of the robots in surgery is an advancement of what we are doing now.

"What you encounter with the robot is more precision, it will be faster, the patient will suffer less and that will lead to an earlier recovery."

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