Bot like giant vending machine added to pharmacy at Royal Preston Hospital

Posted on - 10th April, 2024 - 8:00am | Author - | Posted in - Health, Preston News, South Ribble News
Royal Preston Hospital car park
Royal Preston Hospital

Two new robots have joined the workforce in the pharmacies of the Royal Preston and Chorley and South Ribble Hospital – boasting the ability to gather more medication in an hour than could be picked by hand in a day.

Manual picking of prescription items has long since been confined to history at the two facilities, with an automated system having first been introduced 16 years ago.

However, Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (LTH) has now replaced its ageing machines with the most up-to-date robotic dispensing technology which will bring even more speed to the process.

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The man in charge of buying the bots and overseeing their installation told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) that they allow the 220 pharmacy workers at LTH to be more directly involved in patient care.

“Everyone thinks systems like this take people’s jobs, but the pharmacy staff has grown, if anything,” explained Richard Marshall, the lead pharmacy technician for procurement at the trust.

“It means that instead of having people constantly picking all of these things manually, they can be out at the patients’ bedsides, checking their take-home medicines, checking what they brought in and providing advice on how to get the best out of their medicines.”

While it is all too easy to imagine a set-up with robots roaming around the pharmacy making stereotypically staccato attempts at speech, the reality is slightly less futuristic.

Richard describes them as like “giant vending machines” with a picking arm. The bots are so big they each require their own room – with the system at the Royal Preston having the capacity to store 40,000 medicine packs and 12,000 being able to be held at the Chorley site.

The robots spring into life with the generation of a label for the medication required.  The item is then picked and carried by conveyor belt to a collection point.

“It reduces the risk of medication errors, such as selecting the wrong pack size or strength,” Richard says.

However, there is also still human oversight at the other end of the process from a dispenser and a second checker – with the accuracy of the original label being key to the whole process.

The automated system also helps reduce waste, as the the shortest-dated products are automatically selected first.

Chorley Hospital received its new pharmacy robot late last year, while the Royal Preston’s is almost fully up and running after a six-week installation period, during which staff had to revert to the hand-picking process that many of them have never known.

And while the system might be less like a robot than the image conjured up by the use of that moniker, Richard is not beyond indulging in a bit of anthropomorphisation of the brand new bots – to the extent where they are each going to be given a name.

He is planning to hold a staff vote on the subject, but confesses to having a Star Wars-inspired favourite so far: “Pharma-C-3PO”.

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