A NEW �2 million centre for keyhole surgery, which is the first of its kind in the country, has been officially opened by the Health Secretary.

Andrew Lansley MP opened the state-of-the-art training, research and development centre at Colchester General Hospital yesterday.

The ICENI Centre is a joint venture between Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust and Anglia Ruskin University.

Mr Lansley said that the centre demonstrated how higher education and the NHS could work together to build a relationship that would be “one of the central pillars for the future of education training in the NHS”.

The MP for South Cambridgeshire and other guests were able to watch Colchester consultant surgeon Mr Don Menzies carry out live laparoscopic surgery at Colchester General Hospital via a conference-link up.

The technology will allow distance-learning courses to be delivered to hospitals and universities all over the world.

Professor Michael Thorne, Vice Chancellor of Anglia Ruskin University, said: “The ICENI Centre will provide a unique facility for all health staff across the county involved in or potentially interested in laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery and the patient benefits this brings.

“It will foster world-class laparoscopic research, development and training. This is a huge step forward, building on Colchester hospital’s excellence to ensure that Essex becomes widely known as an international laparoscopic research and development hub across a wide range of medical specialties.”

Sally Irvine, Chair of Colchester Hospital Trust, said: “Colchester General Hospital helped to pioneer the use of keyhole surgery in the UK and has built up an international reputation for its work – both in the operating theatre and in training other laparoscopic surgeons.

“Minimally invasive surgery has many benefits for patients and it results in greater efficiency because it reduces the amount of time they spend in hospital and, therefore, the cost of hospital stays, freeing up beds for other patients.”

The first laparoscopic course in Colchester was in 1992 and courses are held for surgeons and theatre staff. Surgeons come to Colchester for training from all over the UK as well as Europe and the Middle East.

Although The ICENI Centre is being officially opened on Thursday, the first course there – advanced laparoscopic colorectal surgery – was held on 17/18 January and other courses have already taken place at the two-storey facility.

It is expected to host about 35 courses in 2011.

Colchester General Hospital has the highest concentration of advanced laparoscopic surgeons in the UK and performs more procedures across more disciplines than any other hospital.

It has 22 consultants who operate laparoscopically – eight consultant gastrointestinal surgeons, eight consultant obstetrician and gynaecologists, four consultant urologists and two consultant vascular surgeons.