Robotic surgery sounds like the ultimate in safe, efficient and effective 21st-century health care.
Instead of a surgeon’s potentially fallible human hand, you have a robot with its precision-built
mechanical arms able to perform micro-accurate procedures on tissues deep within the body.
With robot-assisted surgery, the surgeon sits at a nearby console with a 3D view of the surgical
site. Computer technology translates their hand movements into precise manoeuvres of the
instruments. If the surgeon’s hand develops a tremor, the computer system knows to ignore it.
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The technology also means surgeons can use finer instruments that cause less damage to the
body. In turn, this should reduce blood loss and the need for blood transfusions – and mean that
patients recover more quickly. With this kind of promise, little wonder that multi-million-pound
robot machines are performing ever more operations across Britain.
The technology, which was first used in 2000, is employed increasingly in intricate surgery such
as hysterectomy, gallbladder removal and repair of damaged heart valves.
But while for many patients robot surgery will have been entirely smooth, the technology is not
risk-free. And leading experts are now voicing growing fears about its safety and effectiveness,
warning of a growing human toll.
Good Health has learned of one particularly alarming case in which a man suffered grievous
injuries from a robotic procedure that nearly killed him when it went wrong.
The patient, who can’t be named for legal reasons, was suffering from prostate cancer and
recently had his prostate gland removed by keyhole surgery using robot technology. His solicitors
say the remote camera attached to the robot arm damaged the man’s bowel, leading to severe
infection, organ failure and cardiac arrest (Nash, 2013).
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