Pluto the Robot

Image of a Da Vinci Robot, supplied by Institute Surgical

Image of a Da Vinci Robot, supplied by Institute Surgical

Pluto, the surgical robot, made headlines as Chelsea Children’s Hospital successfully secured funding for the technological toy, making the hospital the first pediatric facility in London to operate such a device. Used specifically for keyhole operations, the benefits are widely known – the only problem is they cost up to £1.5 million excluding maintenance fees. So how exactly do these ‘bots work, and are they a feasible option amidst the tough economic climate?   

Developed in the sunny land of Silicon Valley at Intuitive Surgical, the Da Vinci robots are fast becoming standard procedures across hospitals in the United States. As of this year, the Institute has sold 1,789 domestically compared to a mere 400 in all of Europe, 27 of those in the UK. But Andrew Bannister, Communications Director at Leeds Hospitals says, “Surgical robots are slowly becoming more common in the UK. We bought our first robot five years ago at Leeds Hospital St James and more recently the second for Leeds Children’s Hospital.”

Doctors are ecstatic at the robots’ precision, incomparable to a surgeon’s hand, as well as the endoscopic cameras that allow for 3d HD visualisation. Hospitals are even more thrilled by patients’ quicker recovery times making for shorter hospital stays. Angela Wonson, Communications Consultant at Institute Surgical adds, “The robots are a device enabling surgeons to perform more accurately. Places like Latin America and Europe are realising the initial investment will help save money in the long run.”

The Forth Valley NHS Hospital in Stirlingshire is one example, purchasing a number of robots used for cleaning. Despite Forth Valley receiving criticism for this, spokesperson Elspetch Campbell says the robots help staff be more efficient and combat infection.

The Scottish-based hospital is not the norm, however. Continued economic downsizing within the NHS makes investment in robotic technology seem indulgent, with hospitals like Chelsea and Westminster Hospital instead focusing on private investment. And while the charitable foundation, Friends of Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, have raised over £1 million thus far to obtain Pluto, it’s still not enough. They are asking for a further £400,000 for additional vital equipment to work together with the robot.

So UK hospitals plough ahead in their appeal to work with advanced technology – it’s just a question as to whether the ‘bots can survive in this challenging time.

To understand more how these robots work, check out this cool video here.