Pioneering keyhole bowel surgery training to go on
There is hope a pioneering programme to train doctors in Wales in keyhole bowel surgery will be able to pay its own way when funding runs out.
Access rates in Wales to this type of specialist surgery are amongst the highest in the world thanks to the Welsh Colorectal Laparoscopic training scheme.
It has been supported for the last five years by the Welsh government.
But the funding is to end this year.
The training is run by the Welsh Institute for Minimal Access Therapy (Wimat).
Director Dr Neil Warren said: "This training is far too valuable to let it drop now. We're hoping to make it self-sustaining.
"The course will regularly be updated as technology and techniques change and we will update it and continue to bring it to junior surgeons in Wales."
Keyhole or laparoscopic operations are performed through small holes in the body.
Special cameras in theatres allow the surgical team to see what is going on monitors in the operating theatre.
The procedure is less invasive than open surgery, less painful, involves a shorter stay in hospital and patients generally recover quicker.
It is estimated that the technique is suitable for over half of patients that have bowel cancer.
Since it was first set up five years ago, more than 50 junior surgeons have received the training and seven have gone on to become senior consultant surgeons in Welsh hospitals.
"The first people who came on the course were junior surgeons in Wales," Dr Warren added.
"They all now have been appointed as consultants here. They are now part of our training faculty guiding the next tranche of junior surgeons."
The programme has also been shortlisted for NHS Wales award, and will also be recognised this summer with another award by British Society of Gastroenterology.
Mr Jared Torkington, a consultant surgeon at the University Hospital of Wales, heads up the training.
"We've taken a radical approach to bring what's perceived as difficult surgery earlier into the curriculum, to train young surgeons at a very early stage, so these things become second nature to them," he said.
"One of our aims with the programme was to ensure that if you were a patient in Wales with a colorectal cancer that you could get access to this laparoscopic surgery if you were suitable.
"And pretty much across the board now in the north, south, west and east - you can do that in Wales."
More than 2,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year in Wales.
Sian Donovan from Cosmeston near Penarth underwent laparoscopic surgery in January to remove a large bowel tumour.
She is returning to work as a phlebotomist at Llandough Hospital on Monday and says she has been surprised by the rate of her recovery.
"Six months ago it was like a black cloud, I was petrified," she said. "Now I'm fit and well, I'm able to go to the loo normally, walk and normally go swimming.
"The surgery left me with very small scars which are virtually invisible. Its amazing to think I'm ready to go back to work so soon."
It is also hoped that offering top-class surgical training will not only help to recruit more doctors to Welsh hospitals but will also help retain young surgeons in Wales.
There have been concerns junior doctors have been reluctant to come to Wales to pursue their careers.
"We're seeing trainees from around the UK taking a real interest in what we're doing and it's a good thing to be able to attract the best," Mr Torkington added.
"We also know if you train in Wales you're likely to stay in Wales as a consultant. We want the best people coming here to train to become tomorrows surgeons."