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Robotic dispensing hubs pilot planned for Scottish pharmacies

The Scottish government is to work with health boards to identify suitable pilot sites to trial the dispensing hubs, Scotland's chief pharmaceutical officer Bill Scott has revealed

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

‘Confusion' over community pharmacy's role in Scotland's vision

Scotland model not right for England, says chief pharmacist

Following a northern star

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?
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Amal England, Public Relations

If the ScotGov undertakes a cost analysis, they will discover that today the dispensing hubs in such a scenario has no feasible returns. However, in ten to fifteen years time, when the technology will be more affordable, the robots will then become ubiquitous. Robotic dispensing will take place in every pharmacy above a certain threshold- when Amazon was relatively new with miniscule sales, in comparison, there was a lot of manual work in the warehouse. Presently the level of automation is phenomenal and will take a further huge leap in the next couple of years. The robots lack one thing- the human factor, is it worth it? The motor industry has proved this beyond any doubt, that is if you are a multinational ruthless outfit.

Leon The Apothecary, Student

I have had the opportunity to use dispensing robots and their use does indeed make the whole dispensing process significantly faster, even more so if you are combining with electronic prescriptions as well. Robotics can optimise the storage of medicines, pick medicines from a batch of prescriptions in the most efficient way, and easily work throughout the night with minimal required input, and the best way to take advantages of these perks is to centralise where prescriptions go to be dispensed.

The whole system of centralisation is already a tried and tested procedure within multiple business types outside of pharmaceuticals. Logistically, it makes good sense.

The downsides of course is people. With automation, you are now left was an excess of skilled persons albeit it pharmacists, Pharmacy Technicians, Dispensers and Healthcare Assistants. Pharmacy would have to adapt and evolve.

Rehan Nawaz, Pharmacy owner/ Proprietor

Won't be long before implemented in the rest of UK

Douglas Forsyth, Community pharmacist

With community pharmacies being asked to take on serial prescribing as part of CMS is this no longer part of their plans? The lack of consultation with contractors on this is awful. I only hope our patients are loyal enough to stay with us. The variations between pharmacies in being able to source stock from sometimes limited wholesalers is also an issue, we hold accounts with all suppliers in order to increase chances of obtaining stocks. Will these hubs be able to provide the same level of service?

Yassin Dickie, Community pharmacist

May God help us.

Marc Borson, Community pharmacist

Thank god i am not in Scotland, This is what universal free prescriptions causes. Why would a public authority think that they can run a dispensing business most cost effectively than the current private one. It cost fortunes to deliver prescription to people far more than the dispensing fee. There will even more wastage poor commercial decisions, and debt. Just like all the other nationalised industries that we have witnessed.

S Morein, Pharmacy Area manager/ Operations Manager

The English system is no better than a central nationalised industry, ridiculous barriers to entry ensure that there is no development of the profession or increase in efficiencies for the tax payer.

Contractors with their assured areas with zero real competition and guaranteed excessive profits have no incentive to either improve service or reduce costs for the hard pressed tax payer.

If the newspapers only knew about how much profit a small contractor easily achieves dispensing less than the national average there would be an outcry.

The press get upset by GP Earning around £100k per annum, if they saw contractors profits universally significantly greater than that the press would have a field day.

London Locum, Locum pharmacist

Careful, this is the SECRET contractors keep to themselves whilst pretending they have no choice but to pay locums $15 per hour.

For years they've got away with this for many many years. I spoke to a contractor who sold up in mid 2000s. He said the 80s and 90s was basically like an untapped gold mine being chanced upon by a select few(contractors).

Nalin Shah, Community pharmacist

tomorrows world all over again

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