The idea of robot assisted surgery might leave some patients wondering if a NHS version of Arnold Schwarzenegger will walk into theatre wearing scrubs. While the Terminator might not have the best bedside manner, the truth is that robot assisted surgery is providing huge improvements in patient care and recovery times.

Gary McShane, 54, from Dennistoun in Glasgow, was devastated by a diagnosis of bowel cancer in May of this year. Within weeks, he was at Glasgow Royal Infirmary (GRI) to undergo surgery led by his consultant operating with the precision robot.

Gary said: “Some of my family thought it might be like Terminator, something out of a sci-fi movie and worried that the machine might go out of control, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

“It didn’t faze me at all, because the surgeon is still doing the operation except it is a lot more precise with the machine than having two hands in there – so I was actually quite at ease with it, despite being apprehensive about going in for a big operation.”

Gary’s left arm is partially paralysed, so he may have had difficulty in the event that he needed a stoma bag fitted – a likely outcome after traditional surgery on bowel. The robotic surgery meant that the precision techniques used, avoided the need for a bag, greatly improving the outcome for Gary. In all, he was in and out of hospital in just 48 hours.

Graham Mackay, consultant colorectal surgeon at GRI carried out Gary’s procedure. He said: “The most common treatment and cure for bowel cancer is surgery, which can often be complicated with a long recovery time for people. Surgery is the most common treatment for bowel cancer, which is Scotland’s third most common cancer, and central to curing the disease. However, this is most often open surgery, which can mean a longer recovery time for patients.

“Using the robot is less invasive and can reduce the time spent in hospital recovering by 3-5 days. We’re always looking at how to improve outcome for patients and in Gary’s case, he was out of hospital after just 48 hours and out for a long walk just two days after that.”

The robot is one of three systems being deployed at GRI and the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QEUH) , as part of a £20 million investment from the Scottish Government which will see a total of 10 used in hospitals across the country. Robot assisted surgery is helping to treat patients with urological, colorectal and gynaecological cancers across Greater Glasgow and Clyde with our systems based at the QEUH and GRI. We will ultimately expand our use of robot assisted surgery to benefit patients with other types of cancer such as those affecting the mouth and throat.

Mr Wesley Stuart, consultant vascular surgeon and chair of the robot assisted surgery programme at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said: “This is a win-win for patients and the clinical team. This new technology makes significantly smaller incisions than traditional surgery, reducing the risk of complications and shortening recovery times. With waiting times increasing as a result of the COVID impact, this will enable us to treat more patients more quickly, and with better outcomes.”

The outlook for Gary is very positive.

“I was shocked at how well it worked,” he said adding that he only experienced ‘minimal pain’.

The tumour was contained and removed and Gary has started some precautionary chemotherapy medication, to deal with any rogue cancer cells. He will take pills for the next six months, with all signs pointing to a strong recovery.

Gary added: “From the consultants to the nurses, I can’t thank the team at the hospital enough, the care was just outstanding.”

As to anyone worried that Arnie might be at the operating table, Gary concluded: “I would advise anyone if they were cautious to go for it, because the results for me were just fantastic.”