The influence of robotics on most industries, particularly healthcare and medicine, is undeniable. With the continuous changes in healthcare requirements, as exemplified by the COVID-19 pandemic, robots can provide valuable assistance in adapting to these shifts. This could ultimately make medical services more accessible to the public, thereby fulfilling the NHS's 'cradle to the grave' social security obligation. Robotics have revolutionised healthcare in the UK, from providing precise surgical procedures to monitoring patients remotely. This technology presents remarkable opportunities to enhance patient outcomes, boost efficiency, and extend access to top-notch healthcare services.

Recently, the NHS has faced much criticism for a variety of reasons: long wait times, poor patient outcomes, lack of staffing, lack of funding and not being able to adapt to changing public health and technologies, the majority of these could be solved with the implementation of robots into our system.

Surgical robots (robot-assisted surgery)

Surgical robots allow doctors to perform complex procedures with more precision and control than conventional surgery. They are often, associated with minimally invasive surgery (keyhole surgery). This is surgery performed through tiny incisions to minimise the risks that occur during surgery.

The most widely used clinical robotic surgical system is a telemanipulator, which consists of a camera arm, mechanical arms with surgical instruments attached to them, and a console, which allows the surgeon to control the system. It gives the surgeon a high-definition, 3D view of the surgical site.

Another type of system is preprogrammed robotic devices that perform regular orthopaedic surgeries. Most of these robots have been trained through AI modelling, which enables them to ensure more predictable results and gradually gain expertise in performing specific orthopaedic surgeries.

The advantages of robot-assisted surgery include fewer complications (for example: infections), less pain and blood loss, quicker recovery time (less time in hospital, most patients are sent home the same day), facilitated surgical training, and smaller/less noticeable scars.

However, the disadvantages include small risks of infections, and nerve damage and compression, the centres are only available in areas that can afford the equipment and technology and the specially trained surgeons, and in sporadic cases, the robot can malfunction.

Some of the types of procedures currently available are:

Prostatectomy (prostate cancer)

Nephrectomy (kidney cancer)

Cystectomy (bladder cancer)


Removal of endometriosis

Colectomy (colon cancer)

Hepatectomy (liver cancer)

Lung surgery (lung cancer)

Gastric sleeves  

Knee and hip replacements

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Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) and Service Robots

AMRs are employed by hospitals to simplify routine tasks such as disinfections, telepresence, delivery and restocking of medication and medical supplies, taking bins out, heavy lifting (beds, patients), disposing of fabrics that might be contaminated with dangerous and contagious pathogens (like during the Covid pandemics) and delivering laboratory specimens. They can be self-navigating or controlled by humans but help to reduce the physical demand on humans and create a more consistent process.

In Mexico, an AMR named Roomie was developed to help staff with high-risk COVID-19 patients by taking the temperature, blood oxygen levels and medical history of patients arriving in the hospital.

The advantages of using AMRs are that they are put into the system to make workplaces safer, cost-effective (as long as they are maintained correctly) and increase production at a lower cost.

The disadvantages are job losses and the high initial investment cost (roughly $30,000).

Service robots alleviate healthcare workers’ tasks by completely routine logistical tasks and sending a report once the task has been completed. They: prepare rooms, track supplies, file purchase orders, restock supply cabinets and transport bed linens to and from laundry facilities.

Modular Robots

Modular robots (such as therapeutic exoskeleton robots and prosthetic limbs) help to aid the rehabilitation and recovery following strokes, traumatic brain injuries, paralysis and impairments due to multiple sclerosis. One method is to use sensors on the skin to detect electrical signals, which, using AI and robots, are turned into movements in joints and muscles. They can monitor a patient’s form as they perform a series of exercises and measure degrees of motion as they progress more accurately than the human eye.

Exoskeletons allow paralysed individuals to walk by mimicking body movements and extend the muscle power, stamina and weightlifting capacity of nurses. While they are useful in healthcare, they are also being introduced in the military to help soldiers combat fatigue.

Social Robots

Social robots interact with patients and visitors in long-term healthcare environments to support patients’ morale and provide cognitive engagement. This was particularly beneficial during the pandemic when human interaction was risky and had to be limited reducing the workload of staff. The more human-like robots can perform tasks with autonomy while interacting naturally with patients and clinical staff.

There are many social companion robots. For example, SAM is a human-sized robotic concierge providing frequent check-ins and non-medical care to patients in long-term care.

Diagnostics, Laboratory and Drug Development Robots

Robotics allow advanced capabilities and accuracy to take place. They permit an increase in speed improve patient incomes and reduce healthcare costs.

Robots allow diseases and conditions to be detected earlier and with greater accuracy, allowing prompt inventions and treatments, improving chances of prognosis and improving quality of life

Laboratory robots are designed to either automate processes or assist technicians in completing repetitive tasks. They can perform tasks that involve chemicals and substances that are dangerous or harmful to humans. Sample handling, testing, and analysis lead to increased efficiency, accuracy, and throughput. This allows healthcare professionals to process a larger volume of tests more quickly, leading to faster diagnosis and treatment decisions.

 Robotics and automation play a crucial role in drug discovery and development processes by facilitating high-throughput screening, molecular modelling, and synthesis of compounds. This accelerates the pace of research, reduces costs, and increases the likelihood of identifying novel therapies for various diseases and conditions.

Despite the numerous benefits of incorporating robots into our healthcare system, they also pose several challenges and considerations, that must be addressed. The cost barriers, maintenance and regulatory complexities, and job displacements are just a few of the key challenges facing the widespread adoption of robotics in healthcare. Moreover, ongoing training and education for healthcare professionals are essential to ensure the safe and effective integration of robotic technologies into clinical practice. However, the biggest problem to overcome is patients' trust in robot care and their data: 1/3 of dental patients in the US don’t trust robots with routine tooth cleaning. More needs to be done to communicate the benefits of robots in medicine to build trust and healthcare facilities need to dedicate roles to oversee the use and cybersecurity of robots.

As technology advances and improves, the potential for robots to transform healthcare delivery and improve public health outcomes is immense, possibly beyond what we can imagine now. As robotics have been integrated into healthcare, it continues to represent a paradigm shift in the delivery of medical services in the UK. Robots have revolutionised patient care, enhanced efficiency and expanded access to high-quality care services. All this might help the NHS fulfil its obligation to the British public like it once did in 1948. However, addressing challenges and ensuring responsible adoption and implementation of robotic technologies are critical to maximising their benefits.

  • This article was written by Olivia Yau from Wildern School as part of Newsquest's Young Reporter Scheme.