Limerick doctors pioneering public robotic surgery in Ireland

30 Nov 2016

Image: wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock

A new piece of cutting-edge machinery has reported “hugely encouraging” results for the public health sector at University Hospital Limerick (UHL).

Costing €2.8m to run, the new da Vinci Xi Surgical System at UHL is making waves in the surgical field. That’s thanks to Prof J Calvin Coffey and Subhasis Giri, whose colorectal and renal procedures have proved a landmark.

Thanks to the duo and their trusty da Vinci, UHL is now the first hospital in Ireland to perform colorectal, adrenal and renal surgical procedures using a state-of-the-art robot.


Coffey, foundation chair of surgery at University of Limerick (UL), has even found post-op recovery times after robotic surgery to be markedly quicker than traditional surgical methods – up to twice as fast.

“Very early discharge is the exception rather than the rule in keyhole intestinal surgery. It seems to be the rule rather than the exception in robotic-assisted surgery,” he said.

The capabilities enjoyed by the da Vinci Xi technology are significant. 3D-HD visualisation gives surgeons a magnified view, which Coffey compared to the surgeon “standing inside the abdomen and reaching out to the organs”.

The robot is secured or ‘docked’ to the patient and has four working arms (each requiring only an 8mm skin incision), to which operating instruments are attached.  Once docked, the robotic arms and instruments are controlled by the surgeon, or surgeons, who are seated at the consoles nearby.

Interestingly, a dual console on the robot allows two surgeons to work on the procedure simultaneously. This will lead to a dramatic improvement in teaching techniques among medical students.

Prof J Calvin Coffey. Image: Alan Place

Prof J Calvin Coffey. Image: Alan Place

“Up to now, robotic surgery has been embedded in the private sector, apart from gynaecologic surgery. Now, for the first time, it is available to public patients in the midwest for colorectal and renal or urologic cases,” Coffey said.

“We have conducted 29 cases to date in UHL – predominantly for colon, rectal and kidney cases – with hugely encouraging results and a high level of patient satisfaction. We are delighted to have the da Vinci here in Limerick,” said Coffey.

The instruments are extremely precise, with no tremor, and they can achieve activities not possible with the human hand – though they would never replace it, as they are completely controlled by the surgeon. The da Vinci programme is scheduled to expand to include gynaecological, endocrine and pelvic floor diseases.

Prof Niall O’Higgins, chair of UL Hospitals Group board, said: “This programme is the first and only robotic surgery facility for general surgery in the public service.

“It has been put in place with unsurpassed attention to every detail of technicality, technique, training and teamwork. The skill and attention provided for each patient demonstrate the high quality of medicine that is possible in Ireland.”

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic