The robots helping NHS surgeons perform better, faster – and for longer


It is the most exacting of surgical skills: tying a knot deep inside a patient's abdomen, pivoting long graspers through keyhole incisions with no direct view of the thread. Trainee surgeons typically require 60 to 80 hours of practice, but in a mock-up operating theatre outside Cambridge, a non-medic with just a few hours of experience is expertly wielding a hook-shaped needle – in this case stitching a square of pink sponge rather than an artery or appendix. The feat is performed with the assistance of Versius, the world's smallest surgical robot, which could be used in NHS operating theatres for the first time later this year if approved for clinical use. Versius is one of a handful of advanced surgical robots that are predicted to transform the way operations are performed by allowing tens or hundreds of thousands more surgeries each year to be carried out as keyhole procedures. "The vast majority of patients, despite all the advantages of minimal-access surgery, are still getting open surgery, because so few surgeons have the skills," said Mark Slack, head of gynaecology at Addenbrooke's hospital, Cambridge, and co-founder of CMR Surgical, the company behind Versius.