North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust is marking World Pharmacists Day by unveiling its newest recruits – two state-of-the-art pharmacy robots.
The BD Rowa Vmax robots have quickly become an integral part of the Trust’s pharmacy dispensary and stores team as they scan, store and distribute thousands of packs of medication every week.
The pharmacy store distributes 225,000 items of medication every year, which has historically involved picking individual packs of medicines from a shelf, ensuring stock is in date and manually recording stock levels.
Recent legislation to reduce the risk of falsified medicines requires a unique barcode on each of the 36,000 packs of medication received by the Trust to be scanned to ensure authenticity. A task which takes up to 70 hours per month if managed manually.
The pharmacy robots allow the team to supply medicines quickly and also reduce the likelihood of medicines picking errors. As well as fulfilling individual prescriptions, the robots can communicate with on-ward medicine cabinets to ensure standard items are always in stock.
The pharmacy robots in action
Robot pharmacy assistant
Caption: We’ve got two new assistants in our pharmacy. They’re a little different – they’re robots.
Umair: My name is Umair Hamid, I’m associate chief pharmacist for operations here at the University Hospital of North Tees where we’ve recently finished the installation of two state-of-the-art pharmacy robots.
They have had a significant effect on transforming the way that we work in the department and have provided us with a number of benefits that my colleagues are going to describe today.
Stuart: Hello, I’m Stuart Fullerton, I’m the principal pharmacy technician for informatics.
This part of the robot here is our hopper which we use for loading the robot.
For all the medicines that come into the pharmacy, we need to scan them to ensure that they are in fact a genuine product. Each medicine has a unique 2D barcode which previously we had to scan by hand but now we can place into the hopper to load into the robot and scan simultaneously.
That saves us approximately 70 hours a month of staff time and it’s been very popular.
This part of the robot is the control screen. From here, we can dispense medicines for our shoots in the stores for ward boxes through to the dispensary or we can drop medicines to the door here for access to the robot.
Donna: Hi, my name is Donna Teasdale. I’m the principal pharmacy technician for logistics here at North Tees.
With the installation of the robot, the dispensing process has become much more lean.
Staff request items for a prescription or requisition from the robot which is then delivered by a conveyor to the workstation.
This has led to a significant reduction in picking errors – around 50 per cent since installation.
Footfall also is massively reduced due to the reduced need to manually go and select items from the shelf.
David: Hi, I’m David, I’m one of the senior pharmacists on–call in North Tees Hospital.
The robot will enable me to do some remote dispensing out-of-hours so hopefully we’ll be able to reduce permissions for patients’ medication and I won’t need to come into hospital to do so.
Caption: The robot can even ‘talk’ to our high-tech on-ward medication cabinets and automatically order restocks as needed.
Faster and more efficient
Umair Hamid, Associate Chief Pharmacist (Operations) led the team to introduce the robots. He said: “We implemented automation in our dispensing process to reduce picking human errors, manage stock automatically and also ensure all the medications are authentic.
“It was a huge amount of work to get them up and running. The robots have a hopper system to feed in the medication for scanning and verification. They then automatically store the medication in secure cabinets.
“When a dispensary colleague logs in, the robot will fulfil the prescription as required and then deposit the medication. It’s like a high-tech vending machine!
“The robots also ‘talk’ to our medication cabinets and automatically complete orders by sending medication along a conveyor belt system to trollies which will be transferred to the wards.
“The on-call pharmacist can even remotely dispense prescriptions from home on a laptop and instruct the robots to deliver the medication to a secure location on-site.
“It’s faster, more efficient and reduces errors.”
Improvements to pharmacy
But it’s not the first time this year that Pharmacy and Medicines Optimisation has worked hard to improve their service. Tasked with making £1m in savings, without compromising the health and recovery of our patients, the team also achieved an astonishing saving of £2.4m by working in close collaboration with clinical colleagues to ensure best value at every stage of a patient’s care.
Director of Medicines Optimisation and Chief Pharmacist Dr Mojgan H Sani commented: “Umair’s great leadership skills made this change happen in a safe and effective manner. He took the team on the journey.”
Mojgan also expressed her thanks to the Trust’s Digital Programmes Team’s Professor Graham Evans, Gillian Colquhoun and Kat Sykes.