The Scottish government will pilot robotic dispensing hubs in selected NHS health boards to help it decide whether they should be used across the country.
The government will spend the next couple of years working with health boards to gather evidence to identify suitable pilot sites to trial the hubs, Scotland's deputy chief pharmaceutical officer Alpana Mair told a health committee meeting on Tuesday (April 29).
The use of a more efficient dispensing system "should provide savings", says chief pharmaceutical officer Bill Scott
More on Scotland's vision for pharmacy
The hub-and-spoke dispensing system was one of a number of models the Scottish government was considering as a way to free-up pharmacists' time so they could spend more time with patients, Ms Mair told the meeting, held to discuss the government's 10-year vision for the sector.
Ms Mair said the findings from the pilot sites could help the government decide if robotic dispensing hubs would be cost-effective in remote areas, where costs to transport medicines to pharmacies were higher.
The government had already held internal discussions on the possibility of procuring dispensing robots for the health service, she added.
Scotland's chief pharmaceutical officer Bill Scott said the government had not calculated whether robotic dispensing models would reduce costs, but he assumed providing a more efficient dispensing system on a larger scale "should provide savings".
An increase in the use of robotic dispensing hubs could mean that pharmacy would "look quite different" in 10 years time, Professor Scott told the committee.
"It could be that routine prescriptions will be dispensed in a hub using robotics, while clinical pharmacists spend most of their time [with] patients. Other members of staff would collect information for the pharmacist before [the pharmacist] engages with you," Professor Scott said.
In its 10-year vision for pharmacy, published last year, the Scottish government said robotic dispensing would need to be "harnessed" to create a health service "fit for the 21st century". Automating the supply of medicines would release pharmacists to spend more time on clinical care, the Scottish government said.
In their responses to NHS England's Call to Action consultation on pharmacy in March, Pharmacy Voice and the Pharmacists' Defence Association called on the government to relax the rules around dispensing so independent pharmacies could operate hub-and-spoke models.
Do you have faith that the Scottish government will utilise the capacity created by robotic dispensing hubs to improve the number and quality of services delivered in pharmacies?