GEMS Professor Pioneers Robotic Surgery at UHL

A University of Limerick, Graduate Entry Medical School (GEMS) professor has become the first surgeon in the country to carry out a colorectal procedure using a state-of-the-art robot, the only one of its kind in a public hospital in Ireland. Professor J Calvin Coffey performed the surgery earlier this year at University Hospital Limerick (UHL) which revealed its new Da Vinci Xi Dual Console Robot last November.

Robotic surgery represents the highest international standard of surgery worldwide and is the most advanced form of key hole surgery available to patients.

Preliminary data from UL Hospitals Group demonstrates that post-operative recovery is twice as fast with robotic surgery than with standard keyhole surgery, with an average postoperative hospital stay of approximately four days.

“Very early discharge is the exception rather than the rule in keyhole intestinal surgery. It seems to be the rule rather than the exception in robotic-assisted surgery,” Professor Coffey commented.

The Da Vinci Xi technology has particular advancements not available with standard keyhole surgery. 3D-HD visualisation provides surgeons with a highly magnified view, virtually extending their eyes and hands into the patient, which Professor Coffey compared to the surgeon ‘standing inside the abdomen and reaching out to the organs’.

The robot is secured or ‘docked’ to the patient and has four working arms (each requiring only an 8mm skin incision) to which operating instruments are attached.  Once docked, the robotic arms and instruments are controlled by the surgeon, or surgeons, who are seated at the consoles nearby. The instruments are extremely precise, with no tremor, and they can in fact achieve activities not possible with the human hand, though they would never replace the human hand, they are completely controlled by the surgeon.

“Up to now, robotic surgery has been embedded in the private sector, apart from gynaecologic surgery. Now, for the first time, it is available to public patients in the Midwest for colorectal and renal or urologic cases,” Professor Coffey said.

“The dual console will allow not one, but two surgeons to operate simultaneously ensuring optimal decision making and precision for each individual patient, the expertise is doubled. It also allows for dedicated training for the surgeons of tomorrow, which to date is not available anywhere else in Ireland, this is approaching the level of control that we see with pilots and co-pilots. We have conducted 29 cases to date in UHL predominantly for colon, rectal and kidney cases, with hugely encouraging results and a high level of patient satisfaction, we are delighted to have the Da Vinci here in Limerick,” he continued.

The Da Vinci Xi robotic programme, now underway at UL Hospitals Group, costs €2.8 million to run and is funded by the Midwestern Hospitals Development Trust, the JP McManus Benevolent Fund, UL and UL Graduate Entry Medical School. The Da Vinci Xi robot is valued at €2.6 million and was donated by the Midwestern Hospitals Development Trust and funded with support from the JP McManus Benevolent Fund.

UHL now has the ability to broadcast live surgery within the hospital right now to its junior doctors on a small scale and will be able to broadcast live to the University of Limerick in the coming months. This provides an unrivalled educational program for medical staff, nursing staff and students alike.

UL, the academic partner to UL Hospitals Group, donated €135,000 to the project for audio visual and training equipment.