The Impact of COVID-19: A Case Study from Intuitive
At the time we moved to create the ABHI's Robotic Surgery Group, the NHS in England postponed all elective surgery as it shifted to an emergency footing to avoid being overwhelmed by the spreading coronavirus pandemic[i]. Our industry adapted rapidly to support the NHS, but the effect on everyday healthcare services was significant. The backlog of surgeries, in particular, is something that must now be addressed.
As healthcare systems worldwide tackled the virus, we at Intuitive, like other companies, focused on responding. We switched to home working where possible and prioritised flexible working to help our team balance work with caring for their families and the broader community. Some employees have critical roles in maintaining our essential manufacturing, repair and logistics operations and cannot work from home, so we introduced additional health and safety measures to protect them, including maximising working space, changing shift schedules and providing personal protective equipment (PPE).
Clearing the backlog of surgeries
ABHI members don’t need to be told how challenging the last few months have been. Our industry has faced an unprecedented threat that I’m sure you’ll all agree has not yet passed. We are proud of how our colleagues have responded, and thankful for the tireless efforts of frontline healthcare workers. Our thoughts are now firmly focussed on how we can support them.
Postponing elective procedures was essential as the pandemic spread. However, as Parliament has heard, further delays to cancer surgery could threaten thousands of lives[ii]. Fortunately, we are now seeing da Vinci robotic-assisted surgery resuming, and our efforts are focussed on supporting hospitals to safely restart da Vinci surgeries and reduce their backlogs.
To do that safely, hospitals have been adopting special procedures. HCA Healthcare UK, for example, requires patients to isolate at home for 14 days before a procedure, then admits them 24-hours early for a COVID-19 test. If the test is negative, the procedure can go ahead with the patient anaesthetised in the operating theatre, rather than the anaesthetic room, and the number of people in theatre kept to the minimum.
Supporting the NHS
We believe da Vinci robotic-assisted surgery could play a unique role in supporting the NHS as it restarts services and begins to reduce its backlog of surgical cases created by the pandemic. Our team has supported hospitals across the country to relocate and expand access to da Vinci systems. We’ve seen collaboration between the independent sector and the NHS, for example where we’ve supported systems to be moved to ‘COVID-light’ sites, often that of a private provider. This has allowed surgeons to operate on their NHS patients who otherwise would have faced a longer wait for their surgery.
We’ve also been able to support hospitals to ensure robotic theatre teams are fully supported to restart surgeries as we know that the NHS workforce has adapted to meet the needs of patients during the pandemic with resources being redeployed across different parts of the system.
Intuitive will continue to work with the NHS as it strives to restart da Vinci surgery and reduce the backlog; supporting system moves, expanding access to systems, providing economic relief to our customers, and ensuring training and support for surgeons and theatre teams is not disrupted.
As the ABHI Robotic Surgery Group firmly establishes itself over the coming months, the collective recent experiences of our members will inform the direction the group takes. COVID-19 is a watershed moment for the health service, and it is essential we as an industry understand their remaining challenges and work with them to ensure services remain accessible, sustainable and robust.
Andrew Bonser, Director of Government Affairs, Intuitive UK&I
[i] BBC News. Coronavirus: Emergency cash to help businesses, while operations delayed. 17 March 2020.