Celebrating 10 years of robotic surgery

Barry Barnsley, one of the first patients to have robotic surgery in May 2011. Photo is a head and shoulders image of him in a brown shirt, pale jacket and tie looking at the camera in front of a red curtain and a wall.

Published on 26 May 2021

Seven is a lucky number for many people – none more so than former prostate cancer patient Barry Barnsley, from Deal.

The 74-year-old grandfather was the seventh person to have ground-breaking robotic surgery at the Kent and Canterbury Hospital, 10 years ago this month.

And as East Kent Hospitals marks the anniversary by unveiling a new, state-of-the-art, Da Vinci robot, Mr Barnsley shared his experience to reassure people who may be about to undergo a procedure using it.

He said: “I tell people I am 007, because I was the seventh person on the list that day.

“I remember being quite excited to be part of the first group undergoing this revolutionary surgery.

“I was given treatment options by the hospital, and told one of the consultants, Ben Eddy, was starting this new procedure.

“So I did a lot of research and saw the robot in action in a video. Everything I saw made me feel confident I was in good hands.”

Mr Barnsley was diagnosed with prostate cancer in March 2011 after going to see his GP with concerns about his urine flow rate.

He said: “My GP was not too concerned following an examination, but I was sent for a biopsy to double check and when I came back for the results I was stunned to be told I had cancer. I was shocked but also very determined to beat it.

“My first thought was that I wanted the prostate taken out so that is the procedure I had.”

Taking painkillers regularly in the first few days following the surgery, and practising pelvic floor exercises before and after the operation are among Mr Barnsley’s top tips for people facing a similar procedure.

He also recommends starting gentle exercise as soon as you feel able.

He said: “I had the operation on Friday, went home on Saturday afternoon and Mr Eddy phoned me on Monday morning to check how I was.

“I was actually walking along the seafront at the time and he was amazed but said that’s exactly what he wanted to hear. I was also doing laps of the garden on the Sunday morning following my discharge on the Saturday.

“In the early days of the procedure, I used to go and talk to men who had been newly diagnosed and I would always say get into an exercise routine.

“Now I play golf a few times a week and my wife and I walk nearly every day. I still have blood tests every year as a precaution but they are fine. I couldn’t be any happier with my experience then and how things are now.”

Mr Barnsley also paid tribute to Clinical Nurse Specialists Ben, Karen and Paula as well as the east Kent continence team, who played a key role in his rehabilitation.

He said: “I was able to mow the lawn after three weeks and play golf after six, but it wasn’t all good news – after three days I had no excuse for not washing up, and I could vacuum the floors after 10 days.

“I would like to thank Mr Eddy and the whole team for everything they did.”

The robot can be used to remove tumours on the prostate, kidneys, and bladder, as well as other procedures affecting those organs, and recovery is significantly quicker compared to traditional procedures.

Surgeons must undergo years of training and mentorship to develop the skills to use the robot. East Kent Hospitals has been recognised as a training centre for robotic surgery by The Urology Foundation and many trainee surgeons have been mentored at the Trust on Robotic Fellowships by Ben Eddy, Ed Streeter, Milan Thomas and Sashi Kommu.

More than 2,000 prostate cancer operations have taken place using the robot since it was first installed in 2011.