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Jonathan Mason: robots are 'an obvious next step' for pharmacy

Automated dispensing is "an obvious next step" for community pharmacy, but uptake will depend on a reshaping of pharmacy's funding model, the Department of Health's community pharmacy tsar Jonathan Mason has said.

The future of dispensing would depend "very much" on the way pharmacists were paid in the future, Mr Mason told a robotics in primary care conference in Birmingham on Sunday (July 3).


"If we have a separation of [supply and service] funding streams, that may well facilitate the use of automated dispensing systems, and pharmacists will be paid to do the things only a pharmacist can do such as advanced services," he explained.

But used within the current contract, robots could end up making staff redundant, Mr Mason warned.

"The current model may facilitate the funding of robots but it may hamper the skill mix," he said. "If people are starting to use robots that's great, but we may start to lose other pharmacy staff members, such as technicians."

Mr Mason predicted that robots would become an important part of the industry's future though.

"My view is automated dispensing systems are a future, perhaps not the future, but they will have a role in the supply of medicines to patients. It makes sense as we have so much technology now and automation seems an obvious next step," he told delegates.

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K Dhanoa, Superintendent

I have to say that's hilarious to me. As Jonathan Mason once told me only a few months ago and face to face that he didn't agree with Robots in pharmacy???

Is it just me or do "politicians" and that is in essence what Mr Mason is now, just say what ever they feel is right for that given moment?

Oh and by the way on different note my favourite word for today is "shallow".

Jonathan Mason, PCT pharmacist

Surely, one is allowed to change one's mind, or is that now forbidden?

I am still not totally convinced that robots are the future for community pharmacy, although they may well be an important part of the future. I have seen a number of robots in use in community pharmacy and can see a place for them in a very busy dispensary, but only as a support tool to enable skill mix. If they are used as a tool to support staff within the pharmacy then they may well have a place, but my worry is that robots will be seen by some contractors as a replacement for support staff, thereby preventing the pharmacist from making the best use of their skills.

I would also like to see some robust evidence that the use of robots in community pharmacy improves safety. At present, there is only anecdotal evidence. As with the introduction of any new technology, the introduction of robots may improve the safety of some parts of the dispensing process, but introduce new errors - we don't know. We thought that electronic prescribing would be safer than manual prescribing, but a recent study from Boston showed that the error rate with electronic prescribing (10% error rate) was identical to manual prescribing - different errors, but errors nonetheless.

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