It is the most exacting of surgical skills: tying a knot deep inside a patient’s abdomen, pivoting long graspers through keyhole incisions with no direct view of the thread.
Trainee surgeons typically require 60 to 80 hours of practice, but in a mock-up operating theatre outside Cambridge, a non-medic with just a few hours of experience is expertly wielding a hook-shaped needle – in this case stitching a square of pink sponge rather than an artery or appendix.
The feat is performed with the assistance of Versius, the world’s smallest surgical robot, which could be used in NHS operating theatres for the first time later this year if approved for clinical use. Versius is one of a handful of advanced surgical robots that are predicted to transform the way operations are performed by allowing tens or hundreds of thousands more surgeries each year to be carried out as keyhole procedures.
The Versius robot cuts down the time required to learn to tie a surgical knot from more than 100 training sessions, when using traditional manual tools, to just half an hour, according to Slack.
Versius comprises three robotic limbs – each slightly larger than a human arm, complete with shoulder, elbow and wrist joints – mounted on bar-stool sized mobile units.
Controlled by a surgeon at a console, the limbs rise, fall and swivel silently and smoothly. The robot is designed to carry out a wide range of keyhole procedures, including hysterectomies, prostate removal, ear, nose and throat surgery, and hernia repair. CMR claims the costs of using the robot will not be significantly higher than for a conventional keyhole procedure.