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Kidney stones 'blasted away'

PUBLISHED: 05:22 18 February 2003 | UPDATED: 16:18 24 February 2010

TREATING painful kidney stones would once have involved enduring a major operation under general anaesthetic, and could leave the recovering patient occupying a hospital bed for up to a week.

TREATING painful kidney stones would once have involved enduring a major operation under general anaesthetic, and could leave the recovering patient occupying a hospital bed for up to a week.

But thanks to new, state-of-the-art equipment, surgery to treat the condition at one Suffolk hospital is to become a thing of the past.

For patients at the West Suffolk Hospital can now have the painful calcium deposits blasted away by shockwaves generated by the pioneering machinery - and return home just 30 minutes later.

Experts are hoping the £500,000 lithotripter machine, which can treat up to 15 sufferers in one day, will shave waiting times by freeing up operating theatres and acute medical beds at the Bury St Edmunds unit.

“The machine generates a shockwave which is focused on the stone and gives the patient between 3,000 and 4,000 shocks to break down the stone into being gravel or sand, which can then be passed naturally,” said James Allan, consultant urologist.

“A patient would be in hospital for a week if they had an operation. With the lithotripter, the treatment lasts around 40 minutes and the patient can go home half an hour later.

“There are also other things you can use the lithotripter to treat, like soft tissue injuries, or tennis elbow, for example.”

The first patient to undergo shockwave treatment at the West Suffolk Hospital using the £500,000 machine was Jane Williams, a corporal with the RAF based at Honington.

Corporal Williams, who has suffered with stones in both kidneys since 1996, said the new approach would allow her to return home within hours to care for her two-year-old son Ryan.

“Because I am in the RAF I have moved around a great deal, which has made it very difficult to go on hospital waiting lists. By the time my turn came round I had moved on somewhere else,” she said.

“The kidney stones weren't really a problem until I signed on to do long service. I was told I wouldn't be able to do so unless I had them treated.

“Without this treatment, my whole life would have been affected. The machine is brilliant, it is totally non-intrusive, and it will allow me to get home to look after Ryan and get on with my normal life.

“You do feel a little bit of discomfort during the treatment, but no pain. It isn't anything anyone should be frightened or nervous about.”

The lithotripter will be shared between several NHS Trusts, and will initially be used at West Suffolk Hospital once a month, rising to once a fortnight if there is sufficient demand.

“Open surgery would be a major operation, and would risk major complications,” added Mr Allan. “Before we had the use of this machine, patients had to go to London or Ipswich, and faced long waits. It is obviously better for patients not to have to leave the region, as we can now offer the treatment on people's doorsteps.

“The machine means the number of people we can treat is not limited by the number of inpatient beds we have free, which can be a problem, especially in the winter. Treatment in the past was also dependent on the theatre.

“With the lithotripter, all we need is a little infrastructure, with a room which is x-ray suitable. It is very cost-effective.”


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