Funding boost for virtual reality training

16 March 2012

A charity’s donation will help to train more junior surgeons to perform life-saving bowel cancer surgery.

Bottoms Up, a charity dedicated to fighting bowel cancer, has donated £7,200 to the Royal Free medical simulation centre so that 12 London-based surgical trainees can benefit from a virtual reality colorectal surgery course.

The 60-day course uses cutting-edge virtual reality simulators to train junior surgeons how to perform keyhole surgery to remove cancerous tumours in the bowel.

Dr Pasquale Berlingieri, co-ordinator of screen-based simulation research, said: “We’re one of the few places in the country to provide training on virtual reality simulators and even fewer have software to train junior surgeons specifically on colorectal surgery.

“Consequently, the course is quite expensive to provide and so we’re very grateful to Bottoms Up for this generous donation. It will mean that we can provide scholarships for 12 junior surgeons from across London to do the course for free, so that they can go on to perform this life-saving surgery. London isn’t the only place that will benefit – these doctors are likely to go on to work at hospitals across the UK, so the NHS as a whole will benefit from the skills they acquire on this programme.”

The course, led by consultant laparoscopic surgeon Greg Wynn from the ICENI Centre in Colchester, starts with lectures on keyhole techniques and colorectal surgery and an induction on the simulators.

Trainees then receive one-to-one training on the simulators and complete modules to gain the various skills needed to perform keyhole bowel cancer surgery. Reviews are done by a trainer at the mid and end point of the training to ensure standards are met.

Mr Wynn explained: “It’s important that we have more surgeons who can perform this operation by keyhole surgery as outcomes tend to be better by this method. Bowel cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in the UK.

“The beauty of the simulators is that it means less time is spent in busy operating theatres training junior surgeons in the basic skills for this complex operation. The virtual reality training course instead allows them to join the team as a more competent surgeon and play a more active and useful role.

“The simulators are very realistic – the instruments that are used are virtually the same as those used in live surgery and the image on the screen represents a very similar picture to that seen during a typical keyhole operation.

“The simulators also replicate real-life in that the more pressure applied to the tissues, the greater the resistance felt on the instruments by the surgeon. Another unique feature of the simulators is that they can measure safety and efficiency parameters of the trainee surgeon’s performance, leading to improvements in operative skill.”

After the training, junior surgeons are more confident to go into the operating theatre with the skills necessary to perform bowel cancer surgery, and then gather more expertise whilst under supervision in theatre with real patients.

Tina Hancock, chair of Bottoms Up, said: “The charity has enjoyed a close ten-year relationship with the Royal Free, helping to fund bowel cancer diagnostic equipment for Professor Owen Epstein’s gastroenterology department. We’re now delighted to be involved with this incredibly worthwhile training programme for tomorrow’s surgeons.” 

ENDS

Notes to editors

For more information contact rf.communications@nhs.net.

The simulator trains junior surgeons on how to perform keyhole surgery for bowel resections. This type of operation is used to remove early stage bowel tumours. During this operation, the surgeon makes several cuts in the patient’s abdomen. A long narrow tube called a laparoscope and other instruments are then passed through the cuts. The laparoscope has a light on the end so the surgeon can look into the abdomen and the tumour is removed through as small a cut as possible. You can view a virtual reality version of the operation being performed on one of the Royal Free simulators on Youtube

Junior surgeons will have to apply for the scholarships funded by Bottoms Up. They will be awarded through a competitive selection process.

The Royal Free medical simulation centre was created following a substantial donation from the Paul Shrank charity fund and a London Deanery STeLI award. It has simulators which provide training on a range of endoscopy, endovascular, gastrointestinal and laparoscopic (keyhole) procedures. For more information, visit the medical simulation centre website.

Bottoms Up is a registered charity, run by a committee of volunteers, raising funds to help the Royal Free and the UCL Cancer Institute fight bowel cancer.

The Royal Free attracts patients from across the country and beyond to its specialist services in liver, kidney and bone marrow transplantation, haemophilia, surgery for hepatopancreatobiliary (HPB) conditions, clinical neurosciences, renal, HIV, infectious diseases, plastic surgery, immunology, vascular surgery, cardiology, amyloidosis and scleroderma and are a member of the academic health science partnership UCL Partners.