It was Isaac Asimov, of course, who declared: ‘A robot may not injure a human being…’ And on Thursday night Rachel Langdale QC gathered a select group of multi-disciplinary experts to establish whether robotic medicine had caught up with science fiction.

Professor David Jayne kicked off the evening, noting that laparoscopic intervention was once described as ‘surgery using chopsticks.’ He suggested that robotic surgery had brought advances in skills and techniques. Now the surgeon could be unscrubbed, sitting remotely (one of the first procedures carried out in the UK was conducted by a surgeon located in the USA), and carrying out the operation with greater accuracy and increased safeguards.

Finn Stevenson, an expert in the provision of robotic technology, presented  a number of slides and  distinguished between ‘Telemanipulators’ (A surgeon controlling the procedure with a joystick) and ‘Assistive Guards’ (Where the robot ensures the surgeon stays within the parameters set at the start of the operation). Finn raised the question of a surgical ‘flight box’, where each move of the surgeon’s hand is monitored and recorded. Thomas Jervis discussed whether it  should it be mandatory for data to be preserved in interpretable form in order that all parties can know precisely what has happened.

Conor Dufficy referred to the Pettitt inquest, an enquiry into the death of the first man to receive robotic assistance in a heart procedure carried out at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle. One of the conclusions reached by the coroner suggested that surgeons should give the patient candid disclosure of their ‘experience curve’. This prompted the old hands amongst the surgeons to nod in agreement; and the new surgeons to wonder how they would get past their first ‘knife to skin.’

Deirdre Goodwin highlighted  recent cases  in which she was involved where robots had been used  and with Mr Tucker discussed when surgeons should seek assistance from others. Sarah Edwards explained the legal requirements around consent. The seminar was drawn to a close by Rachel Langdale, although  it is understood speakers and panellists remained in discussion  in Chambers on the many issues raised. We look forward to hosting in person events in the future in order that all delegates can benefit from  ongoing discussions.

Write up provided by 7BR member, Simon Wheatley.


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