Former cancer patients across south west Hertfordshire have been given a rare opportunity to operate a cutting-edge surgical robot which helped saved their lives.

About 40 people who have been treated for prostate, bladder and kidney cancer attended a special hands-on demonstration of the East and North Hertfordshire NHS trust’s urology robot at Lister Hospital in Stevenage on Thursday morning.

The da Vinci robotic system, paid for by Hertfordshire businessmen Stef and Stelio Stefanou, allows surgeons to control hi-tech keyhole (laparoscopic) instruments while sitting at a special console away from the patient’s side.

To operate the robot, surgeons place their fingers and thumbs into special grips, the movements of which are then scaled down, but correspond exactly with those of the tiny pincers on the end of the robot’s ‘arms’.

Mr Jim Adshead, consultant urological surgeon at the trust, wowed guests with an impressive showcase of the machine’s capabilities, making miniature stitches in a piece of synthetic material and creating knots and loops with the thread.

He said: “This represents a major step forward in the treatment options we can provide to patients with a range of urological problems that need surgery.

“It has enabled us to get patients back to normal activity much more quickly, as well as preserving urinary control and sexual function.”

Visitors tried picking up mini elastic bands and placing them on little clay cones using the machine.

The robotic urological surgery carried out at Lister Hospital, is one of only three such services in the whole of the Eastern England and allows surgeons to perform operations with far greater precision.

Mr Adshead said: “Because the procedure is less invasive, people can often return home on the day after surgery, recover quickly and have fewer complications, giving them a better quality of life experience once their operation is over.”

Doctors used the robot to operate on Chris Watt, 57, of Tom’s Lane, Kings Langley after a lump was discovered in his kidney.

Father-of-two Mr Watt explained: “I went for a check up on my prostate, but was told there was a lump in my kidney.

“Jim [Adshead] said it was best to take it out – I think I was the first person to have a partial nephrectomy [surgical removal of a kidney], using the robot.

“It was all over very quickly, I went in on Friday, January 8, this year, had the operation on Saturday and was out on Monday afternoon.

“I think the robot is brilliant. Before I would have been in for ten to 12 days and left with ten inches of stitches and a big scar. The cancer’s gone now and I’m feeling good.”