A revolutionary surgical technique to help patients with complex gallstone disease has been introduced at the John Radcliffe Hospital, with the support of funding from Oxford Hospitals Charity.

Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is only the second NHS Trust in the UK to offer this pioneering procedure, which uses laparoscopic lasers to break up gallstones and remove the gallbladder.

Oxford will also be the only place in the UK to offer the treatment in a real-time emergency setting.

Laura Cuthbertson, Laser Lead Senior Operating Department Practitioner, explains: ‘This is going to make such a difference – with potentially over 700 patients benefitting from this new technique every year.

Laser Assisted Bile duct Exploration utilising Laparoendoscopy or LABEL procedure as we call it, is keyhole surgery that breaks down common bile duct (CBD) gallstones into tiny pieces and removes the need for patients to have a second invasive operation.”

‘The technique uses laparoscopic lasers to shatter the gallstones which can then be passed naturally in much the same way as kidney stones are routinely dealt with.

‘Previously patients would first need an endoscopic procedure and then later, laparoscopic cholecystectomy  - which is the removal of the gallbladder by inserting a tiny video camera and special surgical tools through four small incisions to remove the gallbladder.’

An £80,000 gift from a generous charity donor to Oxford Hospitals Charity has funded all the equipment for this innovation - covering the costs of laser glasses, surgical instrument kits, theatre reconfiguration and a significant amount of training to ensure the success of the project.

In December 2022 the team at the John Radcliff Main Theatres were able to treat their first patient, with an operation to remove the gallbladder and then remove the complex CBD gallstones, all in one sitting.

Laura, who works alongside Consultant Surgeon Mr Giles Bond-Smith, said: ‘We are thrilled at how well it has gone. We have set up a world class laser service.

‘It took a lot of work to get here, including going to the Ambulatory Care and Diagnostic Centre at Middlesex Hospital to observe and learn procedures from Professor Martinez-Isla and his team.

‘This helped to build up a positive relationship between the surgical teams, sharing techniques and experiences, and our department teams have now been fully trained in laser safety and theatre policies have been well prepared.

‘The LABEL operation was entirely new to the theatre team in Oxford, so we are grateful to the Middlesex team for sharing their skills and expertise, which led to our first cases being a great success.’

Mr Bond-Smith, a Consultant Surgeon with a specialist interest in emergency biliary surgery,  highlighted the importance of this project and how it improves the patient’s pathway and hospital experience.

He said: ‘This new procedure has allowed us to reduce the length of hospital stay to just one day – which is so much better for the patients and a significant financial saving to the Trust.'

‘It will also put the hospital on the UK map as the only centre in the UK to have this option available in the emergency setting.

‘None of this would have been possible without the fantastic, and significant, donation by Oxford Hospitals Charity via a donor that had a specific interest in this area, whom we are most grateful too.’

Mr Bond-Smith’s future plans are that patients will come to theatre on a ‘One Stop Shop Gallbladder Pathway’ using lasers and complex intra-operative endoscopy to help treat gallstones that have slipped into the common bile duct.

Read about more innovations funded by Oxford Hospitals Charity - making a difference across our hospitals.