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Mr Patrick O’Malley

Consultant Urologist, the Galway Clinic

Dr Ian Fraser

Clinical Director of Radiation Oncology, the Hermitage Clinic

Mr Niall Hogan

Orthopaedic Surgery Consultant, the Blackrock Clinic

In modern healthcare, few fields are delivering such rapid innovation or improving patient outcomes as substantially as surgical robotics. 

Since first emerging in the 1980s, surgical robots have transformed the way surgery is performed. In the past, even the most skilled surgeons could not be expected to perform surgeries of even moderate complexity without making large incisions in patients.

As the motion control technologies have advanced, surgical-assistance robots have become more precise than any human being, helping surgeons to perform complex micro-procedures in a minimally invasive fashion, while carefully avoiding nerves and other obstacles.

Delivering clinical excellence

As the country’s newest private hospital group, Blackrock Health, comprising Blackrock, Galway, Hermitage and Limerick Clinics, is at the cutting edge of robotics developments, and their hospitals’ pioneering work in the field goes back well over a decade.

In November 2007, for example, Mr Patrick O’Malley, consultant urologist at the Galway Clinic, established Ireland’s first robotic assisted surgical programme for the treatment of prostate cancer. Today, the group continues to invest heavily in cutting edge robotics to stay ahead of the curve in delivering clinical excellence.

What we are witnessing now is the beginning of a new era in surgical technology.

Mr Niall Hogan

Introduction of precision robotics

As part of this shared effort, Blackrock Clinic recently introduced a new precision robot for joint replacement surgery.

The Mako Robotic-Arm Assisted Surgery device offers many advantages over traditional surgery. The robot warns the surgical team if there is even a minor deviation from the pre-operative plan, while also helping to ensure there is less dissection to the soft tissue.

Similar equipment is already used extensively in the UK and the patient experience here has been very positive.

Patrick O’Connor was the first patient treated using the robot in late 2021. After experiencing severe difficulty in walking, his total knee replacement – and the post-op care in Blackrock Clinic’s Physiotherapy Department – has had a very positive impact.

“The recovery is going very well, and I can now walk further than I did prior to the surgery. I am going to build on this progress and I look forward to getting back into walking and cycling,” Patrick says.

Greater precision and personalised care

In the future, more surgical procedures are likely to be robot-assisted, providing for greater precision and the increased possibilities of personalised care.

A similar innovation has been taking place at Hermitage Clinic, the CyberKnife System, is used to treat a variety of cancerous and non-cancerous problems.

The treatment works by sending multiple beams of high dose radiation from a wide variety of angles using a robotic arm. X-ray cameras monitor the patient’s movement and breathing and reposition the radiotherapy beam in order to minimise damage to healthy tissue.

Improving patient outcomes

This accuracy means it can also be used in place of surgery in some cases and minimises damage to healthy tissue, delivering significantly better outcomes for patients.

Dr Ian Fraser, clinical director of radiation oncology at Hermitage Clinic, believes the machine should be used to help many more patients.

“For a very small lung cancer, this is all you need. The patients feel nothing. They don’t lose their hair. Don’t get sick. No chemo. Its accuracy is within less than a millimetre and it’s the most accurate machine of its type on the island,” he says.

Cyberknife technology is so non-invasive, that the Hermitage’s 1000th patient, Keith Killeen of Mornington, Co Meath, remained awake throughout his painless treatment and was able to drive home immediately after every session.

More innovation to come

While what has been achieved thus far in the field of surgical robotics has been impressive, it will likely pale in comparison to what is just around the corner.

As Mako expert and Blackrock Clinic consultant Mr Niall Hogan put it: “What we are witnessing now is the beginning of a new era in surgical technology, one where patients will benefit from technological advances, bringing with it a reduction in patient pain and a reduction in hospital stays.”

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