PROSTATE cancer patients will undergo robotic surgery for the first time after £1 million was given to finally bring the devices to Scotland.
The country's first Robotic-Assisted Surgical System will operate from two new surgical theatres at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, with the first patient expected to benefit from the advanced surgical techniques early next year.
Although the procurement process is still to be completed, it is highly likely the American-made Da Vinci robot will be used since this is currently the only commercially available robotic surgery system.
The machine has been widely available in Europe for a decade, with more than 40 already in use in England and Wales, but Scottish patients have had to travel abroad for the treatment.
About 3,000 men in Scotland are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year and 900 die from the disease, according to official figures.
The Scottish Government is now giving up to £1m to complement the fundraising efforts of Ucan, the urological cancer charity in north Scotland, to buy a robot that surgeons use to perform minimally invasive surgery, speeding the recovery time of patients.
The charity Prostate Scotland welcomed the announcement, but expressed surprise the technology was to be located in Aberdeen.
It said: "We await practical details on how this machine integrates into provision of care for men in the rest of Scotland. These plans also need to take account of the available clinical expertise available from robotically trained surgeons working in Glasgow and Edinburgh."
Initially, the technology, the latest advance in keyhole surgery, will be used for prostate cancer patients - the most common form of the disease among males in Scotland.
Former Herald writer Gavin Bell, who had to travel to Germany for robotic surgery earlier this year, said: "This is excellent and long overdue news for men in Scotland with prostate cancer.
"There is no question the Da Vinci system is of benefit both to surgeons and to patients, who may be spared the serious side effects normally associated with conventional surgery."
The installation cost of a Da Vinci robot is £1.5m, with annual maintenance of £85,000 and instruments costing more than £1,000 per operation.
However, it has a 95 per cent success rate in arresting prostate cancer, and cuts the risk of a patient suffering incontinence and impotence following surgery.
The Scottish Government had previously faced criticism over delays in bringing the robots to NHS in Scotland and this was highlighted in The Herald on May 17.
Scottish Health Secretary Alex Neil said yesterday: "Surgeons in Scotland have never before had technology quite like this.
"That is why this announcement is just the starting point for robot assisted surgery in Scotland.
"I want to see robot assisted surgery available to patients right across the country, with another robot in the Central Belt within the next three years. We are already working with health boards and Prostate Scotland to make this happen."
Richard Carey, chief executive of NHS Grampian, said: "While Aberdeen will host the first robotic service, we will work closely with other boards and other centres to develop this exciting approach in Scotland over coming years."