CALLS have been made in Holyrood for a high-tech treatment to be made available in hospitals that can spare men the severe side-effects of prostate cancer surgery.

Health secretary Alex Neil was asked if there had been any discussions about introducing the American Da Vinci robot which is widely used in England and mainland Europe.

The question was put by Cameron Buchanan, Conservative MSP for the Lothians, who said the health service in England has 33 of the specialised robots, while there are none in Scotland.

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Mr Neil gave no commitment about whether the machine would be introduced or whether arrangements would be made for Scots to go to England to get the treatment on the NHS.

He said he would report on the outcome of an assessment being made on their use by the NHS's national planning group in due course.

"There have been extensive discussions on the use of robots in prostate operations, particularly in the west of Scotland and Grampian," he said.

"The national planning group is looking at the issue in great detail, including the lessons that can be learned from America, where robotic surgery is used much more extensively."

It was revealed last month that the machines had not been introduced in Scotland, despite being widely used in the United States for the past decade.

The robot is the latest advance in keyhole surgery. It has a 95 per cent success rate in arresting prostate cancer. A major benefit of the delicate nerve-sparing procedure is that it reduces the risks of incontinence and impotence that are almost inevitable in conventional open surgery.

Drew Lindon, head of policy and campaigns at Prostate Cancer UK, said: "Men with prostate cancer in Scotland are being left behind, and the exchanges in parliament on the matter shed little light on when, or indeed if, they will be given the same treatment choices as men south of the border."