Robot milestone for pioneering regional hospital

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The surgical team at St Andrew’s Toowoomba Hospital in Queensland has celebrated a technological milestone, with the 1,000th patient treated using robotic-assisted surgery.

St Andrew’s started using the advanced surgical method in 2014, becoming the first regional hospital in Australia to implement the system.

In April 2021, gynaecologist Dr Anthony Cerqui performed the landmark 1,000th robotic-assisted case, undertaking a hysterectomy for a patient from the Lockyer Valley.

Dr Cerqui said the advancement in technology would help patient outcomes.

“Robotic surgery is the way of the future,” he said. “One of the big advantages is that a lot of the external incisions are smaller.”

The team at St Andrew’s use the advanced surgical equipment for a wide variety of conditions including gynaecological problems, ear, nose and throat (ENT) and urology procedures, along with hernia repair and weight-loss surgery.

Its surgeons train in the United States and Asia to enable them to undertake advanced robotic-assisted cases, and the private hospital has recently upgraded its da Vinci robot to the latest available model, at a cost of $2.7 million.

Dr Anthony Cerqui (centre) and his surgical team performed the milestone 1,000th robotic procedure at St Andrew's Toowoomba Hospital

Urologist Dr Jacob Gleeson said the program had been leading the way, particularly for regional areas.

“It was a big deal for this hospital, we were the first regional centre in Australia to take on robotic surgery,” he said.

“And from the surgeon’s point of view, sitting and working rather than four hours standing over a patient, it’s just better physically and mentally for the surgeon.”

Robotic surgery is minimally invasive and involves the use of a computer to control surgical instruments attached to robotic arms. 

In the operating theatre the surgeon uses controls to move a camera and instruments, which enables precise and delicate procedures with only small incisions.

The technology provides surgeons with 3D vision in real time, wristed instruments that improve dexterity, and tremor cancelling software that enables surgical precision.

Patient recovery following robotic surgery is also improved, including less pain, blood loss and scarring, with a shorter hospital stay and faster return to normal activities.

Key milestones for St Andrew’s in the past seven years include:

  • Being the first regional hospital to perform robotic-assisted surgery to treat prostate cancer, it now has four urologists – Dr Gleeson, Dr Hi Wai Yap, Dr Devang Desai and Dr Wesley Hii – who are highly skilled in radical prostatectomies and other robotic procedures.
  • ENT surgeons Dr Suresh Mahendran and Dr Roger Grigg performed a world-first robotic voice box procedure for a throat cancer patient.
  • St Andrew’s developed the first public/private partnership with Toowoomba Hospital for ENT robotic procedures to help public patients access the best care possible for complex procedures.
  • Local gynaecologist Dr Brendan Miller performed an Australian-first robotic procedure to help women who have previously experienced miscarriage or premature births to carry their babies to full term.
  • Bariatric and general surgeon Dr Evan Wilingham performed the first weight-loss surgery and hernia repair for the Darling Downs region.

Read more: End of an era at St Andrew's Toowoomba Hospital

Read more: Australian first helps to save babies' lives

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