Northern Ireland

Prostate cancer: NI may introduce robotic surgery

Inside a hospital operating theatre

Northern Ireland's health officials are considering offering a robotic-assisted surgery treatment for prostate cancer that is already available in England.

To date, the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) has spent £1m sending more than 170 Northern Ireland patients to Cambridge to receive the treatment.

The charity, Prostate Cancer UK, has called on the board to "urgently review access" to all prostate surgery.

The HSCB said a decision is due in the autumn but will depend on funding.

Robotic-assisted prostatectomy is a type of keyhole (laparoscopic) surgery, also called da Vinci surgery, in which a surgeon carries out the procedure using a special machine.

It is just one of the methods used to treat prostate cancer but it is not offered in Northern Ireland as no hospital has the robot.

However, other treatments including radiotherapy, hormone therapy and chemotherapy, are available in Northern Ireland.

Image caption Mervyn Bryans, who had the surgery in England, said he would like the treatment to be offered in Northern Ireland

The HSCB currently supports patients from Northern Ireland who wish to receive the robotic surgery, funding them to go to the Robotic Prostate Centre at Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge.

Increasing numbers of patients are choosing to do that and the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust said it has sent 116 patients since April 2016.

About 1,000 cases of prostate cancer are diagnosed each year, according to the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry.

About 250 men die every year as a result of the disease.

'A few complications'

Mervyn Bryans was diagnosed with prostate cancer five-and-a-half years ago and had undergone a few different types of unsuccessful treatment.

He went to Cambridge for the robotic treatment and was pleased with it but said he would like to see it offered in Northern Ireland.

"The surgery itself was brilliant but I found it very hard to travel home so soon after the operation," he said.

"Staying in a hotel after surgery, trying to travel home on a plane with a catheter in was also very unpleasant."

2014-15 27 £95,153.08
2015-16 56 £278,399.79
2016-17 93 £505,042.96

Mr Bryans said he also had some difficulties with the aftercare when he arrived back home.

"When I got back I had a few complications and at one point ended up in A&E," he said.

"This was made more difficult because I was now not being looked after by the team that carried out the surgery."

BBC News NI obtained details about the numbers of referrals to Addenbrookes Hospital through a freedom of information request from the HSCB.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the HSCB said: "The arrangement whereby men are referred to Great Britain for their surgery has been in place for a number of years.

"This arrangement became necessary when, as a consequence of staffing changes in the specialist urology team, Belfast Trust was no longer able to sustain a radical prostatectomy service.

"The HSC Board is currently in discussion with the Belfast Trust to explore the potential options in regard to providing radical prostatectomy in Northern Ireland, consistent with national guidance and best practice."

The statement added: "A decision on this matter is expected in the autumn and is subject to future ministerial consideration and available funding."