Dr. Robot! Smart pharmacist speeds up care in Lancashire

Patients in Lancashire are to get their prescriptions in super-quick time thanks to a new robotic pharmacist.

Bosses at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust have installed the new system to help both Royal Preston Hospital and Chorley and South Ribble Hospital speed up prescription processing to get medication to patients, faster.

The Trust's Pharmacy Technician Richard Marshall says: "They're like big vending machines that use barcode technology, so the robot system knows that that barcode belongs to that particular medicine and then when our dispensers or our stores team supply medicines to the ward for their stocklists, they put a request into to our pharmacy system.

"That sends a message to the robot and says give me a pack of whatever medicine that is and then it delivers it to that specified box."

Replacing a 16 year-old system, the new robot selects the box of medicine from the shelves, scans it to ensure it is the right medication and transports it along a conveyer belt to a collection point. Richard says it will greatly speed up productivity at the hospitals where it is used.

"It can do in one hour what we can do in a day," he explains.

The robot at Chorley and South Ribble will hold 12,000 packs of medicines, and 30,000 at Preston. It has a loading speed of up to 750 packs per hour, and with up to 10 metres of conveyor belt, more medication and product lines can be loaded and stored. Most importantly it will improve care on the wards.

This next generation of pharmacy robots also utilise machine learning concepts. It has a "speed box" away from its main cabinet for medicines that are being used up fast and need prioritising.

"Over winter you expect to use more flu, cold and chest infection type medicines and then over the summer it's antihistamines," Richard adds. "Or if we get a new drug and we start using loads of it, it learns that needs to go in the speedbox."

With politicians of all parties determined to up productivity in the NHS to improve care at low cost - a supersmart robot pharmacist could be coming to a hospital near you soon!