A pioneering trans-continental tele-mentoring link which helps surgeons in North Tyneside train their counterparts in Tanzania has won a top national award.
Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust’s web-based audio-visual link with Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre (KCMC), won the prestigious British Medical Journal (BMJ) award for surgical team of the year.
The tele-mentoring link has enabled consultant surgeon Liam Horgan and his team to teach keyhole surgical techniques through a dedicated IT link to their KCMC colleagues 5,000 miles away.
More than 500 procedures have been completed between 2005 and 2013 through the initiative, reducing overcrowding on surgical wards.
Mr Horgan said: “Setting up a tele-mentoring link was a real triumph for the whole team; we had to overcome a series of obstacles associated with infrastructure and technology in Tanzania, and therefore we are delighted that our hard work has been recognised with this national award.
“The link has been revolutionary – to be able to train surgeons remotely rather than face-to-face once a year has had a crucial impact and enabled us to share our expertise and help Dr Kondo and his team at KCMC to improve the experiences of so many more patients.
Dr Chilonga Kondo, head of surgery at Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre who has arrived in the UK for the awards, said: “We are very proud of the link because it has transformed surgical services in the country and it is seen as an icon for the whole of Tanzania. We are delighted that we have won this award.”
Mr Horgan added: “Laparoscopic surgery is exactly what was needed in Tanzania to reduce the number of patients waiting for operations in crowded surgical wards and we are delighted to play a part in that.
“To me this is an example of teamwork and a strong relationship that straddles two continents making our world smaller and hopefully safer and better for patients.”
Dr Kondo added: “When we started laparoscopic surgery under the guidance of the surgeons in Northumbria, we could only carry out operations when the team was visiting which was a great step forward, however, not sustainable in the long term.
“Establishing the link has enabled us to improve our technical and surgical skills, given us the confidence to practise on our own and ultimately means we can carry our more operations and help more patients.”
Brenda Longstaff, international programmes manager at the trust, said: “The project has been a triumph of international collaboration and has been inspired by the commitment of two surgeons who operate in very different financial circumstances.
“It was no easy task establishing the link considering the technological challenges of IT infrastructure, particularly the availability of electricity supply, and this nomination is testament to the dedication of all those involved: the surgeons, nurses and engineers who worked tirelessly to bring it to fruition.
“None of this would have been possible without the IT solutions developed by OR Networks, the direct support of the Tanzania Telecommunications Company and generosity of our sponsors and fundraisers who gave us the support we needed to make it happen. It has been an amazing achievement which has been topped off by this award.”