‘I wouldn’t have robotic surgery,’ says heart expert
ROBOTIC surgery is leading to the deaths of patients, a leading practitioner has warned, adding that if he needed an operation he would opt for a real surgeon.
Prof Stephen Westaby advised against the use of robotics in this country after the death of a music teacher who underwent such a procedure.
Stephen Pettitt, 69, died after an operation led by Sukumaran Nair at the Freeman Hospital, Newcastle, in 2015. Recording a narrative verdict, coroner Karen Dilks said his death came as a “direct consequence of the operation and its complications” and Mr Pettitt would almost certainly have survived if he had undergone conventional surgery.
It emerged that Mr Nair had never had any one-to-one training in using the device.
Yesterday Prof Westaby, a heart surgeon at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, said that the case was not isolated, and that he would not undergo such a procedure using a robot in Britain. “I do know of other robotic cardiac surgery cases that have not hit the headlines yet, but were similarly a disaster,” he said.
“So I do think we have to be very careful about how this technology and procedures are rolled out.”
He said that heart surgeons in the UK had too little training in the use of the technology for it to be employed safely, criticising a lack of central guidance.
“Every time you stop a heart and try to restart it, it does risk that patient’s life. And the smallest of mistakes can cascade into disaster,” he said.
Prof Westaby added that the potential advantages of using robotic surgery were “very small indeed” compared with the risks, stating that he himself would opt for standard surgery in such circumstances.
“If I was in the United States I might opt for it [robotic surgery], but I would not do so in this country,” he said.
Mr Nair was dismissed from the Freeman Hospital after it emerged that he had turned down opportunities to train on the Da Vinci machine. Despite this, he had vociferously lobbied superiors to be allowed to perform the mitral valve repair in 2015 – the first of its kind in Britain aided by a robot.
The inquest heard that Mr Nair had performed the operation slowly and that by the time it was discovered he had mis-applied some sutures, Mr Pettitt was becoming gravely ill.
The inquest in Newcastle heard an expert’s opinion that Mr Pettitt would have stood only a 1-2 per cent chance of dying had conventional open-heart surgery been used to repair or replace his leaking valve.
After the hearing Mr Pettitt’s widow, Margaret, said in a statement: “Following Stephen’s tragic death an investigation revealed a catalogue of errors including significant deficiencies in the training and competence of the surgeon who had performed the procedure.”