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Inoperative units hindering SIUT’s bid to buy robotic surgical system

By M. Waqar Bhatti
June 29, 2017

The only corporation in the world that manufactures the da Vinci Surgical System, which enables surgeons to perform operations through a few small incisions, has said that it would not sell its robot-assisted surgical system to the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation (SIUT) until its systems already installed at two public hospitals in Karachi are fixed and remain functional at least for one year, The News has learnt.

When SIUT officials approached Intuitive Surgical Inc, an American corporation, to buy the robotic surgical system, the company replied that the purchase could only be possible once its robotic systems installed at the Civil Hospital, Karachi, (CHK) and the Government Qatar Hospital, Karachi, were repaired and remained operational for a year.

The company would not sell more robotic systems to any Pakistani healthcare organisation unless its conditions are met, a senior official of the Sindh health department told The News.

The reason behind the refusal was the fact that the corporation was one of international repute and the broken robotic systems at two government-run hospitals in Karachi were tarnishing its image, said the official who requested anonymity.

The robotic surgery systems were installed at the two hospitals in 2011 at a cost of $3 million each but, after performing a few dozen surgeries, both systems broke down, he added.

“The robotic systems at both the hospitals have been lying idle for the past two years,” he said. “The hospitals require hundreds of thousands of dollars to get the systems repaired.”

Other leading private hospitals of Pakistan had also approached Intuitive Surgical Inc and had been turned down by the company for the same reasons, he added.

“In order to acquire one such system, the SIUT managed to get Rs250 million from the Sindh Health Department but when the manufacturing firm stated its conditions, SIUT officials said they would provide half of the funds for repair of the machine at the CHK while the other half was to be arranged by the health department,” the official said.

“SIUT surgeons performed nine procedures on the robot-assisted surgical system at the Civil Hospital’s OT complex under the supervision of two England-based surgeons. Both the surgeons came from Guy’s Hospital, London. Prof Shamim Khan and Prof Archana Fernando helped SIUT and CHK surgeons learn how to operate the da Vinci system,” the official added.

Of the nine surgeries performed with the help of the da Vinci system at the CHK, seven were performed by SIUT surgeons under the supervision of England-based surgeons while two of the surgeries were performed by the surgeons from the Civil Hospital’s surgical unit IV, he said, adding that more surgeries were planned with the help of the robotic surgical system after Eidul Fitr.

On the other hand, Qatar Hospital Medical Superintendent Dr Khalid Masood said Intuitive Surgical Inc had demanded Rs40 million for fixing the robotic system at the hospital. He said the hospital’s management had asked the Sindh government to provide the required funds for the repairs. 

“Surgeons at our hospital performed around 90 procedures with the help of the robotic system after its installation, but due to lack of maintenance the system broke down and now has been lying non-functional for the past two years,” Dr Masood said.

According to him, initially, the robotic surgical system was operated by Dr Faiz who performed several surgeries and, later, Dr Umer Fateh performed a couple of dozen surgeries before the system broke down.

Dr Masood said he had requested the Sindh government to provide the Rs40 million needed for repairs so that the broken system could be fixed at the earliest.