Milestone as CMR Surgical’s Versius robot is used by NHS hospitals for first time
Two NHS hospitals have now used the Versius surgical robotic system from CMR Surgical, representing a major milestone in the company’s development.
The Western General Hospital in Edinburgh became the first hospital in Europe to perform minimal access surgery with Versius, followed by Milton Keynes University Hospital NHS Trust in Buckinghamshire, which became the first in England to use it.
The initial procedures have been colorectal surgeries, helping to treat patients with serious bowel disease or bowel cancer.
Further NHS hospitals are set to use the system in 2020. CMR Surgical said this would include both large teaching hospitals and smaller local centres, enabling wider use of robotic minimal access surgery than ever before.
Lord Prior, the chair of NHS England, who officially opened CMR Surgical’s new headquarters in Impington in May 2019, said: “It’s fantastic that the NHS is the first in Europe to use the next generation of surgical robots, and yet another example of how the NHS is teaming up with Britain’s excellent engineering sector to deliver world class care.”
CMR Surgical achieved unicorn status in September 2019 after a £195million funding round designed to drive forward the global commercialisation of its extraordinary technology, which is smaller, more portable, affordable and easier to use than incumbent surgical robots.
A month later, Galaxy Care Hospital in Pune, India, became the first hospital in the world to operate on a patient with Versius.
The adoption of the robotic system by the NHS, however, represents another huge step forward in the robotic arms race for CMR Surgical, and is sure to open more doors around the globe.
Mark Slack, chief medical officer, said: “Today is another pivotal milestone for Versius as it continues to demonstrate unprecedented value to patients, surgeons and the NHS.
“We set out to design a system that was versatile, portable and cost-effective, and it is immensely rewarding to see it now being used in the NHS – one of the most thorough and clinically rigorous health systems in the world.
“We are intent on ensuring the responsible introduction of this technology, and the skilled expertise and focus on innovative research at these NHS sites make them the ideal place for this technology.
“Our focus now will be on working with the surgical community across the UK to provide the option of minimal access surgery to everyone who may benefit.”
Versius could perform up to 700 keyhole surgeries across its first two NHS sites each year.
These would otherwise have been performed by open surgery, which has greater infection risks and leads to longer, more painful recoveries.
Affordability has been a barrier to broadening the use of surgical robotics. But Versius can be paid for through a managed service agreement, offering a fixed cost, which it is now a realistic option for NHS hospitals that have found the upfront costs of surgical robotics to be prohibitive.
Training has been another barrier - many surgeons have found existing machines very challenging to use. But Versius features fully wristed instruments and its three independent arms are similar in size and shape to the human arm. Its console, where the surgeon sits, offers 3D HD vision and natural instrument control, reducing stress and tiredness.
CMR Surgical offers training to surgical teams.
The system is also small enough to be transported between different sites and theatres in a hospital, or even between hospitals - the Western General is one of four hospitals run by the NHS Lothian Health Board.
Once in a theatre, it takes an average of 15 minutes to set up.
Dr Tracey Gillies, medical director at NHS Lothian, said: “We are delighted to be creating history and to be at the very forefront of medical science.
“Our team at the Western General Hospital are the first in Europe and among only a handful in the world to pioneer this new type of robotic surgery.
“This is a really exciting development and is a credit to the team, who are determined to push boundaries to provide the best patient care possible.”
The scope for minimal access surgery, also called keyhole or laparoscopic surgery, is enormous.
It is estimated that only one third of procedures that could be performed this way currently are, and only 13 per cent of hysterectomy procedures across Europe are conducted laparoscopically.
A 2018 report by the Office of Health Economics suggested that switching to laparoscopic procedures reduced the average stay for gynaecology patients from 5.5 days to just 1.5 days in 95 per cent of cases.
Others are also working on rolling out the next generation of surgical robotic systems. But CMR Surgical has stolen a march by securing the NHS as a client.
The task of global commercialisation now falls to new CEO Per Vegard Nerseth, who was managing director at multi-billion dollar robot multinational ABB Robotics before taking over at CMR Surgical on January 1.
He took over from CEO Martin Frost, who had led the company from start-up to unicorn status in less than six years, but felt the time was right to hand over the reigns.
More by this authorPaul Brackley