IT HAS been touted as the first surgical robot to operate in regional Australia and it’s called Tamworth home.
Tamara hospital urologist Ramin Samali has performed the first operation with the new machine and the prognosis is nothing but benefits for the region.
Dr Samali said the robot would mean quicker recovery time for patients and also do away with the need to travel for some surgeries.
The “state-of-the-art” robot works in a manner similar to laparoscopic, or keyhole, operations, and while it was housed in the region’s private hospital, Dr Samali said the public system would follow suit some day.
“Eventually, it has to, but with the funding and the expense of the actual equipment, it will be a much slower process, unless cheaper robots become available,” he said.
“These robots usually cost about $2.5 million.”
The robot, nicknamed Rupert by some in the theatres, is controlled remotely by a surgeon from a console within the operating room.
The urologist said it wasn’t overly challenging to transfer his skills, despite undertaking a year’s worth of training in Brisbane.
“It’s just a matter of getting used to the operating mechanism of the robot,” he said.
“We have been doing laparoscopic or keyhole operations without the robot.
“With the robot, we’re doing the same operations.”
While it has only been used in Dr Samali’s specialty area, focusing on the kidneys, bladder and prostate, he said it would be able to operate on anywhere in the abdomen and even perform head and neck procedures.
The Da Vinci machine came at a substantial cost, but Tamara boss Darren Ninness said it was an easy investment to justify.
“So, 12 months we’ve got patients going out of town that required a radical prostatectomy; they had to go out of town,” Mr Ninness told The Leader.
“Because Ramsay [Health Care] has invested the dollars into the facility, we’ve got the ability now to let the patients stay in Tamworth and we don’t have the surgeons going out of town.
“When you’re sending patients out of town, usually families are going out of town, so there’s cost, there’s stress.”
Mr Ninness said the robot could prove to be a boon for the region and it could put Tamworth on a “level playing field” with metropolitan areas enlisting surgeons.
“We’ve got two urologists that are trained, we’ve got two existing surgeons who’ve expressed interest in using the robot,” he said.
“They’ll do training and they’ll use this robot to do their simulation training.
“That also means when we’re recruiting other surgeons in to address gaps here in the North West catchment that the robot will be here to strengthen the ability to recruit other surgeons in to the area.”
Registered nurse Ray McKenzie also had extensive training to be able to assist with robotic operations.
With 30 years’ experience as a nurse, Ms McKenzie was amazed at how far the industry had progressed.
“When I first started, we actually washed the theatre sponges, so a long time ago, and there was nothing like a robot or even laparoscopic work,” she said.
“The technology of the last 30 years is just amazing.”