16/10/2023 | Press releases

Robotic surgery helped speed up recovery say endometriosis patients

Robot surgery sounds sci fi, but it’s fast becoming the norm for many operations at Colchester and Ipswich Hospitals.

Gynaecological operations are now one of several procedures patients can have performed robotically, offering many benefits such as a quicker recovery because surgery is more precise and less invasive.

The robot looks like an octopus with several arms used to enter the patient’s torso at different points – like keyhole surgery. Then the surgeon sits at a separate console controlling the robot’s arms to make the necessary incisions.

Patients Amy Hook and Abbie Smith have both had robotic gynaecological surgery at Colchester Hospital. They’ve shared their stories and how their recovery went following their operations by East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust (ESNEFT) consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist Barry Whitlow.

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Amy Hook, 33, lives in Manningtree and works at a law firm. She had a hysterectomy to remove her uterus having experienced pain for several years due to endometriosis and adenomyosis.

“I’ve suffered years of crippling pain and heavy periods back since I was a teenager. I quickly thought what I was experiencing couldn’t be normal and by 23 I was diagnosed with stage 3 to 4 endometriosis and adenomyosis.

“I’ve had various treatment, including previous operations and being put into a medical menopause. But despite treatment, the problems and pain continued. It’s been a rollercoaster – physically and emotionally – and I’ve had fertility counselling.

Two women smiling at camera. One with short blond hair, one with long blond hair
Amy and partner Shelly

“Having a hysterectomy has been on the cards for a while now and I knew it was an inevitable stage I’d get to.

“I hit 30 and having had seven years of hell since my diagnosis I spoke to my consultant Barry Whitlow and he agreed to put me on the list. He’s been fantastic and completely understood I’d tried everything else. We talked through the operation and he said he’d use robot surgery. I was fine with that and had my operation this summer.

Hospital ward with woman laying in a bed and woman in maroon uniform and plastic apron next to bed
Amy following her operation at Colchester Hospital

“I vaguely remember hearing my surgeon tell me that the op had taken longer than expected as the endometriosis was worse than anticipated and things were quite stuck together. My womb, cervix and fallopian tubes were removed, and endometriosis excised from my bladder, kidney tubes, and various areas in my pelvic cavity.

“I was in hospital for one night afterwards and felt I’d healed amazingly well. I was tender the second week but in a lot less pain than the other procedures I’ve had done. I’d definitely recommend robot surgery to someone else if they have a choice.”

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Abbie Smith, 35, is nursery manager from Ipswich. She has endometriosis and had robot surgery in the summer to remove tissue growth.

“My consultant Mr Whitlow said it’s like weed killing – that removing the extra tissue caused by endometriosis cuts it back for a while but it will return.

“It’s still an enormous relief to have had the procedure, especially after years and years of no one believing me when I talked about the severe pain. Ever since I started my periods at 11 I realised they were different to my friends.

“I missed quite a lot of school and when I went to university to take childhood studies, the issue escalated. I’d have flare ups and I wouldn’t be able to move.

“Doctors said to take paracetamol and ibuprofen together, but I never felt believed or taken seriously about just how bad it was. So I researched the issue myself.

“It wasn’t until I spoke to a nurse during a smear test that I was finally believed and referred to Colchester Hospital.

“Barry Whitlow changed my life as he understood and believed me. I was diagnosed with stage 4 endometriosis.

“I was excited to have robot surgery and the recovery has been great. Work has been really understanding and I’m pleased, for now, it’s more under control and I can get back to living my life.”

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Barry Whitlow is a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust which run Ipswich and Colchester hospitals.

He said moving towards robotic surgery for treating conditions such as endometriosis offers many benefits for patients.

He added: “It’s great to know Amy and Abbie have felt the positive benefits of robotic surgery. Our data shows it’s quicker with robots and patients stay in hospital for less time. Not only is that positive for them to be able to recover at home, it also helps us be able to treat other patients quicker too.

“Performing the procedure robotically in our centre has also shown outcomes are significantly better too.”

Endometriosis is a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb grows in other places, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes. More information about endometriosis and the symptoms are available on the NHS website.

You can read more about Amy’s experience on her blog ‘It’s Not the Endo The World’.

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