A robot will be used to operate on patients in one part of Wales

Hospital staff being introduced to the high-tech new robotic system
-Credit: (Image: Swansea Bay University Health Board)


A new state-of-the-art surgical robot at a Welsh hospital is expected to significantly reduce waiting times for prostate cancer patients. Once the new kit is fully bedded in at Morriston Hospital in Swansea, selected bladder and kidney cancer patients will also be treated using the robotic system.

Only the second of its kind in Wales, it uses four arms, controlled by a surgeon using a separate console, to carry out surgery to a degree of precision far exceeding human capabilities, Swansea Bay University Health Board has said. Manufactured by a company called Intuitive, the da Vinci Xi robotic-assisted surgical system, to give its full name, is so dextrous it can peel the skin off a grape and stitch it back on again.

The system consists of three elements. The first is a patient cart, effectively the ‘business end’ which includes the arms that hold a highly sophisticated camera and an array of surgical instruments. For the latest Welsh news delivered to your inbox sign up to our newsletter.

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The robotic system's patient cart
The robotic system's patient cart -Credit:Swansea Bay University Health Board

The second is the surgeon console, through which surgeons control the instruments while viewing the patient's anatomy on a high-definition screen. There is also a vision cart, which also includes a high-definition screen showing live images of procedures, visible to everyone in the operating theatre. This is the system’s "nerve centre".

The health board says that it costs around £1.6 million at a time of "unprecedented pressures" on NHS budgets. But it says it will have an immediate impact by tripling the operational capacity for robotic procedures, therefore reducing waiting times for patients in Swansea Bay and Hywel Dda health boards, which Swansea Bay surgeons also cover for robotic surgical procedures.

Once fully operational, besides being extended to bladder and kidney surgeries, other suitable services will receive training and access to the system. Previously, Swansea Bay booked time slots to use Wales’s first robotic system at Cardiff’s University Hospital of Wales. Now the money spent on that is helping to pay for Morriston Hospital's own.

Swansea Bay urology consultant Matthew Jeffries said: “We are so pleased to have the Da Vinci robotic system in Swansea Bay. Learning to use it is like acquiring a new skill, but it’s very user-friendly, and the support and training offered by the company is excellent.

“The robotic system is very precise and is excellent for operating in tight spaces, such as the pelvis. The instruments have far more movement than the human wrist, which is essential for suturing and operating near vital structures.

"The procedures are done through smaller incisions, allowing patients to recover more quickly and have shorter hospital stays. We’ve used the Da Vinci robot in Cardiff for nearly 10 years, sharing the system with surgeons from Cardiff and Newport.

"We’ve been operating on patients who live as far away as Aberystwyth because we’ve covered the Hywel Dda area for these procedures for some time. So I think to have a robot in Swansea is absolutely huge for the communities we serve.

"The other benefit involves capacity. As eligibility for robotic surgery has expanded with expertise, demand for the robot in Cardiff has become saturated. Having our own will significantly increase the number of cases we can perform, reducing the time patients have to wait for surgery.”

The surgeon console, complete with viewing scope
The surgeon console, complete with viewing scope -Credit:Swansea Bay University Health Board

The robotic system’s arrival is the culmination of a huge amount of work by procurement and management teams, theatre and sterilisation teams and consultants. For the initial months, urology will be the only specialty to use the robot but longer term, it will support multiple specialties to develop their skills while designing how to introduce robotic procedures into their services.

Swansea Bay’s urology team is also benefiting from the creation of a new post which will not only be key to supporting robotic surgery but also help support patients right through their journey. Kelly Crowe has taken up the post of surgical care practitioner, with the role funded for the first two years by Prostate Cymru. The charity also funded training for surgeons on Cardiff’s robotic system, so this is part of an ongoing commitment.

She will play a vital role in assisting the surgeon during the operation. She will also be pivotal in supporting the patient throughout their cancer pathway, from pre-op assessment to discharge and follow-up. Ms Crowe has worked for the health board, in a wide variety of roles covering all specialties, since 2001.

She said: “You fit your role around what the service needs but currently I’m focused on theatre work and the robotic system as it’s something we need to get up and running. It is amazing – it is able to articulate in such a small space. The robot’s instruments are so tiny, which helps to reduce nerve damage, for example. It is a bit weird to have the surgeon with their back to you, looking down a scope.

"There’s been a lot to get my head around. I wanted to join urology because as a service, urology is ahead of the game in the use of robotics. It is a huge opportunity to be able to instigate something and be part of it from scratch. The robot does make my job easier and it’s far better for the patients. Infections rates are lower and less recovery time is needed in hospital. It’s very good.”

Prostate Cymru chairman and urology consultant Andy Thomas added: “We are thrilled to provide funding for the new SCP role at Swansea Bay, which we believe will make a significant difference in the lives of men battling prostate cancer. Our aim is to support initiatives that directly impact patient care and improve outcomes. By investing in this crucial position, we hope to enhance the support available to men throughout their prostate cancer journey.

“After previously funding the training of the surgeons on the first robot, we are pleased to continue supporting the Urology Department with the SCP role and look forward to Kelly helping streamline the surgical process, provide invaluable support to patients, and ultimately make a positive impact on their overall experience and recovery.” Join our WhatsApp news community here for the latest breaking news.