‘I wouldn’t have ro­botic surgery,’ says heart ex­pert

The Daily Telegraph - - News - By Laura Don­nelly HEALTH ED­I­TOR

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.”

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