PATIENTS being treated at a private hospital in Wrexham are being given iPads in theatre to keep them distracted during surgery.
The innovative move at Spire Yale Hospital has been introduced for many simple procedures which do not require a full general anaesthetic.
It means doctors can concentrate on the job in hand knowing patients are busy catching up on episodes of their favourite programmes, watching movies with earphones in or even playing Candy Crush.
Consultant Dr Neil Agnew has been one of the first anaesthetists to trial the scheme and says it has been well received so far.
He said: “For operations below the waist there are two types of anaesthetic – the general when you are fast asleep and the spinal when you are numb from the waist down so that you don’t need to be fast asleep.
“There are a lot of advantages to having the spinal anaesthetic – the recovery time is much quicker, there is less of the sickness that can be associated with the general anaesthetic.
“But it is often quite difficult to convince the patient of this and they can be very anxious about being awake. In that case we end up giving them some sedatives anyway which then reduces the benefits of not having a general in the first place.”
Now the Spire Yale Hospital has brought in top of the range technology to help – providing iPads and headphones to patients not having a full general anaesthetic.
Neil, aged 44, said: “We’ve only been trialling this for a few weeks but it’s going really well so far. We had one lady engrossed in the Antiques Roadshow, another hooked on the last episode of Poldark and another chap watching the rugby.
“They have their headphones on and don’t worry about what we’re doing and can’t hear the occasional noises.
“We need them to stay relatively calm and still so it’s perfect for us. Then once we’re finished they are up and about straight away so the recovery time is far less than with a general and it’s a far more pleasant experience for the patient.”
So far the iPads have been loaded with movies and connected to television catch-up programmes, but as they use the Spire’s wifi internet connection, Neil is not ruling out downloading games such as Candy Crush or Angry Birds.
He said: “The thing is that they tend to have an oxygen monitor attached to one hand and a drip in the other so playing games would not be that easy but could be possible.
“One issue we did have to overcome is that the patients are in different positions depending on what they are having done – on their backs for a knee op, on their sides for a hip – so we had to find a way of holding the iPad in various positions.
“We have overcome that now with a flexible holder that means it can be twisted into any position for any operation.”
With iPads being used as cameras regularly, Neil is not even ruling out the occasional ‘surgery selfie’ although he accepts there would be patient confidentiality issues to tackle before they went down that route.
He said: “Social media could be a tricky one for the same reasons and I’m not sure we’d encourage any live blogging in theatre but who knows in the future?”
Neil lives in Marford with his wife and two children and has been working at the Spire Yale Hospital for 13 years.
His comments were echoed by the lead practitioner who obtained the iPads and equipment for the Spire, Lindsey Edge-Smith.
She said: “This scheme should be a great benefit. There are some patients who are anxious about being awake and it should help them enormously and then there are some patients who are terrified of having a general anaesthetic and this should help them avoid that where possible too.
“There is an inherent risk with any general anaesthetic and anything we can do to avoid it where necessary lessens that risk.
“This way the patient is up and about sooner, out of bed quicker and ultimately back home faster.”