Belfast City Hospital's £1.5 million robot is set to operate on up to 100 men a year, ending years of men having to travel to England for the procedure and no prostate surgery at all in Northern Ireland since 2016. We get the reaction from two of our volunteers who have helped us campaign for this welcome breakthrough.
Men in Northern Ireland will no longer have to travel out of the country to have a robotic prostatectomy, after Belfast City Hospital announced its new Da Vinci machine is ready to start operating on 100 men a year.
Since early 2016, men have not been able to have any type of prostatectomy surgery in Northern Ireland. And most men opting for robot-assisted surgery had to endure travelling to Addenbrokes Hospital in Cambridge for the operation.
Now, urological surgeon Hugh O'Kane will be using the £1.5 million robot and training other colleagues at Belfast City Hospital on it, giving the more than 1,000 men diagnosed with prostate cancer each year in Northern Ireland the option of the less invasive surgery.
"It’s great news that the Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Board are taking key steps to improve access to prostate cancer surgery at a safe standard," says Martin Abrams, our Change Delivery Manager. "Offering surgery closer to home will greatly improve the situation for men in Northern Ireland wanting a radical prostatectomy.
"But it's important that access to surgery forms part of a wider plan for improving all aspects of prostate cancer treatment, within an overall cancer strategy for Northern Ireland."
The news come after years of campaigning by our Northern Irish supporters, who backed our calls for a review of access to all types of prostate cancer surgery and the development of a long-term sustainable plan.
Belfast resident Jackie Dickson was so incensed that her husband, Billy (pictured above together), had to travel all the way to Cambridge for his prostatectomy in 2016, she organised an annual March for Men at Stormont to lobby politicians and raise awareness of the issue.
"I'm just over the moon we now have robot-assisted surgery in Northern Ireland," she says. "I've been working very hard, along with my family and the Prostate Cancer UK Northern Ireland hub, to raise awareness that men wanting a prostatectomy had to travel over to the mainland twice. Once for the pre-op assessment and then two weeks later for the surgery, travelling home just two days after with a catheter bag in.
"It was very difficult for my husband and I being away from family and friends – they couldn't even visit after the surgery. But now surgery's available in Northern Ireland, men can have the support they need close by."
Mervyn Bryans (pictured above), who shared his distressing experience of having to sleep in a hotel and fly with a catheter after his robotic surgery in Cambridge, is also pleased to see the Da Vinci robot arrive in Belfast.
"It’s amazing that it’s here and operations are starting," he says. "It means the times will reduce from the point of diagnosis to having treatment. You had to wait at least six weeks for the funds for the operation to transfer between the hospital trusts before you could even go to Addenbrokes."
Now Mervyn wants to see a cancer strategy that will also help reduce the time between seeing a doctor and getting a diagnosis of prostate cancer in Northern Ireland. With the country's health officials revealing earlier this week that they were likely to start work on such a strategy, we're hopeful there'll be more good news for men in Northern Ireland in the very near future.