New Somerset Hospital is leading the way in laparoscopic hernia surgery training in South Africa.

This comes after the facility was identified by the Hernia Interest Group of South Africa (HIG South Africa) to be the designated training centre in the Western Cape for laparoscopic hernia surgery training.

New Somerset Hospital is one of only two institutions to offer this specialised training in the country.

Western Cape Minister of Health, Dr Nomafrench Mbombo, said: “We are excited that the Western Cape will be leaders in this type of specialised training. This will enhance quality of public healthcare provided to the many patients who undergo this surgery. This complements the innovative approach we are exploring towards healthcare provision in the Western Cape.”

The Western Cape Department of Health (DoH) has identified a big need for laparoscopic inguinal surgery training in the country, specifically because of the valuable benefits this type of surgery has for patients who require it.

According to Head of Surgery for the Clinical Unit at New Somerset Hospital and leader of the laparoscopic hernia surgery training centre at the facility, Dr Heather Bougard, these advanced technologies negate the need for the large incisions used in traditional open surgery.

“New Somerset Hospital performs approximately 200 laparoscopic hernia surgeries per annum. Hernia surgery is a common procedure at many hospitals, but is still mainly performed the traditional ‘open’ way in South Africa today,” said Dr Bougard.

“Commonly referred to as minimal invasive surgery or keyhole surgery, because the incisions are much smaller than those used in traditional operations, surgeons make three tiny cuts or ‘keyholes’ and use a reinforced patch of mesh to close up the hole inside the patient. Not only does this type of surgery offer less discomfort for patients after the procedure, but also helps to secure a shorter hospital stay, an earlier return to normal activities, and less visible scarring,” continued Dr Bougard.

Training is open to all surgeons, both in the private and public sector. “Since opening the training centre in February 2015, we have successfully trained 20 surgeons and another 15 surgeons will be undergoing training during the course of the year,” said Dr Bougard.

Training takes a dynamic dual-faceted approach, enabling surgeons to receive both hands-on experience under the supervision of an experienced surgeon and theory-based training. This is followed by proctoring, which is when a senior surgeon goes to assist a surgeon at another hospital and trains them in feeling comfortable with a particular operative technique.

According to Dr Bougard, the performance of laparoscopic surgery initially poses challenges in terms of hand-eye coordination, which necessitates extensive training. “The technique requires the surgeon to develop a new understanding of the anatomy and demands a different type of surgical dexterity. This type of surgery can only be performed safely after the surgeon has performed many cases under supervision,” said Dr Bougard.

Dr Bougard added that HIG South Africa has researched and established guidelines for surgeons, hospitals and medical funders in South Africa to ensure that best practices are standardised, maintained and implemented for the best possible clinical outcomes without an unnecessary cost burden.

“As one of the six regional hospitals under the responsibility of the Western Cape Government Health, New Somerset Hospital is breaking the teaching barrier, which was historically dominated by tertiary hospitals,” said Dr Bougard.

“At the same time, the hospital gives back to their community and still manages to serve the training needs of the surgical society of South Africa. My team and I are proud to be a part of this initiative and we look forward to pursuing clinical excellence without compromising on cost or quality,” concluded Dr Bougard.

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