Charitable businessmen ‘brassed off’ over ongoing lack of robotic surgery

Urology in Northern Ireland will lose out on surgeons because it does not have robotic surgery
Urology in Northern Ireland will lose out on surgeons because it does not have robotic surgery

A group of the Province’s most influential businessmen claim they have been made fools of by health officials, who they had offered to back financially to provide robotic-assisted prostate cancer surgery.

The chairman of Men Against Cancer said the group made up of charitable businessmen may fold after uncertainty over the introduction of robotic prostate surgery which is already available in England.

Eric Cairns, Chair of Men Against Cancer

Eric Cairns, Chair of Men Against Cancer

Eric Cairns said the group are “absolutely brassed off” with what he claimed was the non-committal of the Belfast Trust towards its business plan for a robotic surgeon.

Formed in 2000, Men Against Cancer helped build and equip an early diagnosis clinic in Belfast’s City Hospital for prostate cancer. They also helped bring Brachy surgery equipment to Northern Ireland – which involves the implantation of radioactive seeds into the prostate gland to kill tumours. Patients would previously have had to travel outside NI for this type of surgery.

The charity then turned its attention to robotic surgery for prostate cancer, another surgery only available outside Northern Ireland.

The group said it had offered to share the costs of the equipment – £500,000 of £2,250,000.

Mr Cairns said: “We’d been pushing for seven years to bring a robotic surgeon to Belfast. We were given the clear understanding by the Belfast Trust that this was about to be acquired. At the eleventh hour the decision was reversed. This was before Stormont collapsed so that can’t be used as an excuse.

“When we heard the purchase had been put on hold I wrote to them saying we were giving them three months notice to decide. If they decided on purchasing the equipment we would back them financially, if they said no then we’d be closing down Men Against Cancer. The second option now looks likely. The time is up and there has been no communication.”

He added: “Men Against Cancer has run out of road with the department. We put the clinic in place, we put the Brachy surgery in place, we’ve added equipment and various other elements, all related to men’s cancers.

“Our big push was to get this robot into Northern Ireland and without the robot we have no future. We’re not going to hit our heads against a stone wall.

“Our board is made up of some of the most influential businessmen that Northern Ireland has ever produced. The department has made fools of us and we don’t like it.”

He added: “Without a machine like this, urology in Northern Ireland will no longer have that magnet to pull up and coming surgeons here, in fact it has the reverse effect.”

The Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) said the arrangement whereby men are referred to GB for surgery came about due to staffing changes in the specialist urology team.

The HSCB said a decision is due in the autumn but will depend on funding.

Responding to the claims made by Mr Cairns, the trust said: “The Belfast Health and Social Care Trust is fully supportive of the development of robotic surgery.

“The trust has submitted a bid to the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) for funding which is needed in addition to the generous donation from Men Against Cancer.

“A decision from the board is awaited with discussions ongoing. A meeting is scheduled within the next few weeks between the trust and HSCB.”