Innovative programme helps train more doctors in robotic-assisted surgery

A group of surgeons at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) have become the first registrars in the UK to benefit from a new da Vinci robotic surgery training programme.

The use of robotic-assisted surgery is gaining momentum within the world of surgery and in 2017 NNUH was the first hospital in East Anglia to perform robotic-assisted colorectal surgery, offering increased precision for surgeons and potential benefits for patients, such as shorter length of stay in hospital. However, training to use the console-operated four-armed da Vinci Surgical System has, in the past, exclusively been reserved for hospital consultants.

As part of the Trust’s vision to become a centre of excellence in robotic-assisted surgery, a new training pilot has been devised by the NNUH Sir Thomas Browne Colorectal Unit and Intuitive, the pioneer of robotic-assisted surgery and makers of the da Vinci surgical systems. This has enabled surgical registrars, on the path to becoming consultants and who have had many years of surgical experience, to complete the training necessary in order to carry out bowel cancer operations on the Trust’s two da Vinci systems.

From February of this year, several surgical registrars, based at NNUH, took part in this robotic surgery training programme, which was championed by Mr Irshad Shaikh, Consultant Colorectal and lead Robotic Surgeon at NNUH, and supported by Intuitive.

Mr Shaikh, who teaches robotic surgery nationally and has helped the robotic colorectal programme in ten UK hospitals, said: “I have consistently found that the registrar level trainees are left out in this programme and worked together with Intuitive to devise this training programme.  I am very proud of the East of England deanery surgical registrars for successfully completing the first phase of robotic colorectal surgical training and delivering this first national pilot programme at NNUH.”

David Marante, Regional Director at Intuitive UK and Ireland, said: “Congratulations to Mr Shaikh and his registrars for successfully piloting this training programme – the first of its kind in the UK for this type of training on a da Vinci system.

“We have invested in training centres in the UK and are deeply committed to successful training and education of surgeons and their care teams so they can safely and effectively use da Vinci robotic-assisted technology to improve efficiencies and to help improve outcomes with the patients they serve.  This training programme allows for registrars & fellows to be trained on our da Vinci systems through a dedicated training pathway facilitated by their consultants.”

Eleanor Rudge, who took part in the pilot, said: “We feel that we are in an extremely privileged position to be some of the first surgical registrars in the country to have access to this type of training. We were fortunate enough to have access to specialist training centres which allowed us to get hands-on training and get us to the point where we are able to sit at the console and operate on patients. There are plenty of hospitals within the UK that have access to robotic-assisted surgery, and yet surgical registrars at these hospitals often get very little actual robotic experience. However, we are lucky enough to have someone like Mr Shaikh, who has the vision, the know-how and the enthusiasm, which have all been key to allowing us access to this incredible opportunity. We have also had the support of the entire colorectal unit at NNUH – as a registrar group, we have worked in many hospitals in the region and it is very obvious to all of us that the support of this department is exceptional.”

The Trust invested in two new surgical robots last year following a £1m donation from the N&N Hospitals Charity.

Sam Hettiarachchi, who was also on the training programme, added: “It has been very exciting to be part of. It is really satisfying to do this surgery and the handling of the controls is a really good feeling. We are used to doing these procedures as keyhole or open surgery and we also have back-up from two experienced surgeons in the room.”