Career advice

Surgical robots create opportunities for theatre nurses

As well as transforming surgery, the introduction of robots at the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust has opened up new and exciting opportunities for the trust’s theatre nurses, writes Lynne Pearce.
robot

As well as transforming surgery, the introduction of robots at the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust has opened up new and exciting opportunities for the trusts theatre nurses, writes Lynne Pearce

When Londons Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust introduced robots a decade ago, it transformed some surgical procedures.

But it also created new and exciting opportunities for the trusts theatre nurses, says theatre sister Robin Hurst-Baird, who joined the trust two years ago.

Robotic surgery is enabling nurses to have increasing responsibilities, she says. It gives them the chance to be more involved.

After qualifying nine years ago, Ms Hurst-Baird has always worked in theatres, including as an anaesthetic nurse before starting to work with robots around six years ago. In her current band 7

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As well as transforming surgery, the introduction of robots at the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust has opened up new and exciting opportunities for the trust’s theatre nurses, writes Lynne Pearce

robot
Nurses with a surgical robot at the Royal Marsden.
Picture: Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust

When London’s Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust introduced robots a decade ago, it transformed some surgical procedures. 

But it also created new and exciting opportunities for the trust’s theatre nurses, says theatre sister Robin Hurst-Baird, who joined the trust two years ago. 

‘Robotic surgery is enabling nurses to have increasing responsibilities,’ she says. ‘It gives them the chance to be more involved.’ 

After qualifying nine years ago, Ms Hurst-Baird has always worked in theatres, including as an anaesthetic nurse before starting to work with robots around six years ago. In her current band 7 post she oversees seven theatres and nine specialities within cancer care, managing around 30 nurses. ‘Working in surgery is exhilarating,’ she says. ‘You’re in the thick of it and it’s really interesting.’

Opens the door

Band 6 nurses are expected to become competent to work in robotic surgery, with more experienced band 5 nurses also encouraged to train once they have rotated through the various specialities. 

The new technology also opens the door for nurses to have specific roles heading up different specialities, including head and neck surgery, urology, gynaecology and breast cancer. 

‘Theatres are dependent on nurses, and nothing happens without us,’ says Ms Hurst-Baird. ‘Surgeons rely on senior nurses to enable them to carry out their procedures.’

Continuous training

The trust currently has two robots, with the newest model introduced in January 2015. A surgeon working at a console operates the machinery, with nursing staff working alongside. 

Experienced nurses undergo an initial training period of around three weeks, but training is continuous. Competence-based, it includes how to set up the theatre, how to position the patient and equipment, making sure the robot is sterile, and understanding the operation.

Nurses also learn how to troubleshoot, including what to do if something untoward happens. 

‘Many specialities are moving from open surgery to laparoscopic and then to robotic,’ says Ms Hurst-Baird. She is currently involved in moving two new specialities – liver and head and neck – to robotic surgery, where robots will perform most of the operations.

Not scary

As the surgery is minimally invasive, it limits blood loss and recovery times for patients and often reduces pain, with some patients discharged the day after surgery. 

Ms Hurst-Baird admits some nurses can be slow to embrace change. ‘I think some miss the more old-fashioned role, but I encourage them to see it as exciting and most end up really enjoying it, especially when they realise how much surgeons depend on them.’ 

Some can also be put off by the equipment. ‘It can look quite daunting, especially if you don’t understand what it does,’ says Ms Hurst-Baird. ‘But it’s actually not that scary.’


Lynne Pearce is a freelance health writer 

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