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Rowlands reveals new hub-and-spoke facility for its 450 pharmacies

The MediPAC system is currently assembling around 270,000 repeat prescriptions a month
The MediPAC system is currently assembling around 270,000 repeat prescriptions a month

Rowlands’ parent company has opened a new hub-and-spoke dispensing facility, which it hopes will be able to assemble 16 million of the multiple's repeat prescriptions a year.

Since June, more than 140 Rowlands pharmacies have started using the new MediPAC dispensing system based in Runcorn, Cheshire, which is now assembling around 270,000 repeat prescriptions a month, Phoenix UK said.

By December, the company expects the facility to have the capacity to dispense “16 million prescriptions annually for all Rowlands branches in England, Scotland and Wales”, the equivalent of 40% of the more than 450 branches’ dispensing volume, it added.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the facility last week (August 30), Phoenix UK group managing director Steve Anderson said the service comes “at an important time” for the multiple.

“As we enter the five-year [pharmacy funding] contract, we want to give our branches every opportunity…to deliver more patient services.”

How Rowlands’ hub-and-spoke model works in practice

Also speaking at the opening ceremony, Nicky Grundy, Phoenix UK’s head of centralised dispensing and MediPAC project lead, said the facility took around 15 months to build and launch, “from when we put our first steel in the ground to where we are today”.

“[One] of the challenges we faced was getting this amount of technology within the vaults of a confined space,” she added.

Explaining the hub-and-spoke process, Ms Grundy said each pharmacy order is processed in around three days, from when a pharmacy sends the order to the “hub”, to when the medicines reach the branch.

While there are pharmacists based at the registered hub-and-spoke facility, “we don’t do any clinical checks. That is the branches’ remit to do that”.

The 26,000 square feet of machinery use a series of “vision tunnels” to identify each medicine by its barcode, which is then picked and packed into bespoke MediPAC bags according to the patient label.

Some items are too small, slim or cylindrical for the machine to process, Ms Grundy said. These products, which represent about 5% of the items dispensed in the facility, are sent to a section (pictured below) where a pharmacist will manually add them to the patient’s prescription, she explained.

Once the MediPACs reach Rowlands’ branches, pharmacists scan the barcode on the bag, which will link it to the patient medication record, Ms Grundy said.

“In an instance where a patient might have a controlled drug, [the system] will then tell them to go and attach that and reconcile any outstanding item to that bag.”

Expanding to Numark pharmacies

Mr Anderson (pictured above) claimed: “Centralised automated dispensing is vastly more efficient than branch-level assembly.

“However, the technology requires significant investment, well beyond the means of many independent pharmacists. You need to process a large volume of prescriptions before you get payback on that investment – volume that an individual independent pharmacy or small groups are unlikely to generate,” he added.

For this reason, Phoenix UK is looking at ways to extend the service to its Numark members, “who want to reduce their prescription assembly costs to invest in the provision of new patient services”, Mr Anderson said.

“I welcome the recent announcement from government that they will change the law in order to allow us to do so,” he added.

12 Comments
Question: 
Are dispensing hubs the future of community pharmacy?

Mark Boland, Pharmaceutical Adviser

'To the thumbs downers - come on then, tell me what our future is'

The future of pharmacy is what is gradually happening now: a consolidation of the number of pharmacy contracts and the minimisation of on-site dispensing. Ergo, a much smaller number of pharmacist positions. The surviving pharmacists existence being wholly dependent on governments ability to create services that have high patient demand and proven cost-effectiveness.

Off-site dispensing is a done deal. The farcically inefficient and unsafe operation of the typical dispensary is rightfully being cancelled. The development of services is clouded with unknowns.

Uma Patel, Community pharmacist

Farcical meaning 'relating to or resembling farce, especially because of absurd or ridiculous aspects.' . There is nothing 'farcical' about dispensing and don't assume hub and scope is 'safe'. Its easy to be smug with hind sight. How else did the patients get their medication before the advent of digital technology and previously pharmaceutical industry

Mark Boland, Pharmaceutical Adviser

'there is nothing 'farcical' about dispensing'

I have worked in hundreds of branches over a 20 year period. In the vast majority of cases I worked in dispensaries that were a complete shambles. Disorganised, untidy, poorly designed, physically dirty, non-existent stock control, comical workflow and with overworked staff who were never provided with the work environment to show the best of their skills.

This fact cannot be taken away from me, as I have experienced it for myself for over two decades. I would have the full support of any of the pharmacists I know who have had the same breadth and depth of experience in community pharmacy. The denial of this has always come from those who had a direct contractual and financial benefit from propagating this denial.

'Its easy to be smug with hind sight. How else did the patients get their medication before the advent of digital technology and previously pharmaceutical industry'

You miss the point. It was never hindsight, it was blatantly obvious at the time. Moreover, the technology and operational design that could have solved many of the problems has been available for decades in other industries. Community pharmacy had a generous contract and control of entry that allowed it operate in such an inefficient way.  

Time is up, it is no longer up for discussion. Dispensing IS going off-site, whether you like it or not. The employee pharmacists survival will be based on the development of new services that use the latest technology, have high patient demand and proven cost-effectivness. If such services are developed, the pharmacist will only be able to carry them out if the workload of the dispensing process is taken off their shoulders. The pharmacy will only be viable with consolidation and the use of technology so the same number of workers can carry out the newly acquired business.

, Business Development Manager

Surely this can only help pharmacies! Hub and spoke innovation is what the industry needs.

SP Ph, Community pharmacist

""processed in around three days"

 “we don’t do any clinical checks. That is the branches’ remit to do that”.

“In an instance where a patient might have a controlled drug, [the system] will then tell them to go and attach that and reconcile any outstanding item to that bag.”

So, 

1. More phone calls -- Where are my Medicines? The surgery said the Rx was ready 2 days ago??

2. You still have to do the Clinical check and will still be responsible for what is in the bag that is sealed!!!

3. You still have to scan the bags, sort them, reconcile any outstanding item, so on and so forth.

Now, where does it save time? All it does is print labels, pick the item attach label and bag (still leaving some items out) And when the bag actually arrives in the Branch there is more workload to see if everything is alright.

Next question, what if there is a mistake you find out while handing over? you need to open the bag in front of the patient, don't you? Remember FMD?? So what do you do then if the item is not in stock because you did not keep it in stock because the Hub has all the stock. So many "because" with only you being held responsible. Why? Because of RP regulations.

Believe me this whole "using modern tec" on large scale is going to add to the miseries of the poor RP than relieve him to do some stupid services.

Watch this space.

anti-depressed Pharmacist, Manager

You are wasting you breath, this is what the yesmen cant understand. There are 3 steps in pharmacy: 1.patient 2.gp 3.pharmacy. They have added an additional step that slows the process down rather than improve. The yesmen can see the emperor's new clothes but wont say anything. Cowards.

David Moore, Locum pharmacist

Wow! That video was informative. 

Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

I actually laughed out loud at the video. Probably the most pointless attachment I have ever seen.

C A, Community pharmacist

I would like my 5 seconds back... totally pointless.

John Cleese, Production & Technical

Yes.

Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

Notice how the question didn't say 'the future of community PHARMACISTS'. We don't have one.

Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

To the thumbs downers - come on then, tell me what our future is!

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