Robot community day at Northampton General Hospital raises awareness of life-saving new surgical technology

Patients Ian Dowell and Ross Thompson with the robot. (Photo: Submitted)
Patients Ian Dowell and Ross Thompson with the robot. (Photo: Submitted)

A life-saving state-of-the-art surgical robot was showcased at an awareness day at Northampton General Hospital (NGH) this week.

The £1.7m robot has now been used to perform more than 280 potentially life-saving cancer operations and - by using tiny key-hole techniques - helped patients to rapidly get back to normal life.

The awareness day, on Thursday (August 17), enabled patients, hospital staff, families, and children from local schools – who named the NGH robot ‘Stitch’ in a competition held in May last year - to find out more about robotic surgery.

Saee, six, playing on the demonstration robot. (Photo: Submitted)
Saee, six, playing on the demonstration robot. (Photo: Submitted)

More than 190 visitors were able to use a demonstration model of the da Vinci XI robot to pretend to carry out surgical work working with the many different surgical tools the robot’s ‘octopus arms’ can hold using special hand-held controls. And patients, who were under general anaesthetics during their operations, were able to see the mechanics of how their procedures were actually delivered.

Ian Dowell, aged 60, from Rushden, had his prostate removed in a robotic operation at NGH on June 14 after being diagnosed with prostate cancer in November 2022.

He said: “This amazing bit of kit was used to help remove my prostate. Even though it is a major operation I was only in hospital for one night, I didn’t need any post operative pain relief and my recovery has been excellent.

“I am now back at work as a warehouse operative. I want to say a big thank you to my surgeon, Mr Hemant Nemade, and all of the hospital’s staff who looked after me. I can’t thank them, and the NHS, enough. You are literally saving lives every day of the week.”

Shaurya, eight, playing on the robot. (Photo: Submitted)
Shaurya, eight, playing on the robot. (Photo: Submitted)

Ian, who is married to Mandy, and has two children, and four grandchildren, said: “If you are offered this kind of operation rather than an open procedure I would say go for it. You don’t need to stay in hospital long and you get back to your normal life much more quickly.”

Ross Thompson, aged 72, from Moulton, had his prostate removed last September after undergoing a series of cancer tests earlier in the year.

Mr Thompon, who is married to Margaret, and has two children and four grandchildren, said: “I came in to hospital about 7am and went home about 3pm the next day. Having an operation using the robot means you have much smaller wounds and they heal a lot quicker.

“I pretty much felt back to normal in a few weeks. I would say to people there are definite benefits to having this kind of operation if it is offered to you.”

The robot in theatre (Photo: Submitted)
The robot in theatre (Photo: Submitted)

Ian and Ross were able to meet surgeons, Mr Chandran Tanabalan, and Mr Hemant Nemade, and have a go on the robot and have it explained to them.

So far surgeons have used the robot to carry out operations for to tackle prostate cancer, rectal and bowel cancer, head and neck tumours and uterine cancers.

Mr Chandran Tanabalan is NGH’s clinical lead for robotic assisted surgery, clinical lead for cancer, and a consultant urological surgeon.

He said: “Using a surgical robot has many benefits. It is very precise and means we need to make only a few small incisions – which heal quite quickly after the operation.

Rupert, 10, playing on a giant operation game at the community event. (Photo: Submitted)
Rupert, 10, playing on a giant operation game at the community event. (Photo: Submitted)

“We can see the area being operated on very clearly, the robot tools have great dexterity, there is less blood loss, less complications, smaller scars, and less post-operative pain for the patient.

“It helps us to carry out procedures in difficult to reach parts of the body with complete stability. It is a symbol of the evolution of modern surgery and I am sure will be the future for many other kinds of operations as well.”

NGH’s Medical Director Mr Hemant Nemade – who is also a urological surgeon who uses the robot – added: “The open day was part of our work to increase public awareness of what robotic surgery is and the benefits it brings for patients.

“We want to expand this surgical option to more specialities as the evidence increasingly suggests that robotic surgery is the gold standard for surgery.

“This is particularly true among older patients, because it is less traumatic and enables a quicker recovery with less potential complications.

“It is a type of surgery we aim to do more of as the University Hospitals of Northamptonshire NHS Group and we would like to become a regional hub for this kind of work.

“We are already in the process of training more surgeons from different specialities to operate the robot – including some surgeons from neighbouring counties.”

The surgical robot is based at Northampton General Hospital but is carrying out operations for patients from across the county.

The hospital is also thanking the Northamptonshire Health Charity our NGH volunteers, buggy drivers, and staff members who supported the event..