Automated machinery selects stock from shelves and dispenses it with a reported 100% accuracy. For stock control, by using barcodes a system can record everything that enters and leaves, saving pharmacy staff from time-consuming duties such as stock-taking, checking deliveries, shelf-stacking, drugs retrieval and expiry date control. In addition, the ways in which packs are stored within such a system can reduce the site footprint of a pharmacy by 50%. There are also error reductions and speed advantages, for example discharge prescriptions and drugs in ward-boxes can arrive two hours earlier.
Over 300 hospitals across Europe have installed automated dispensing systems produced by UK manufacturer ARX. The speed of ARX systems varies from approximately 10 packs per second to 1 pack every 15 seconds, with capacity varying from about 2,000 packs to 200,000 packs. Equipment costs start at £40,000 (46,000 euros) through to £1m (1.15m euros).
The systems can be used just for out- or in-patient dispensing or all dispensing and distribution. The reasons for opting for a particular system vary according to the needs of a site, the firm’s CEO Tom Simcox pointed out. ‘Our range of products and services allows us to tailor automated dispensing systems for virtually any pharmacy.’
A year ago, for example, the Blackpool Victoria Hospital installed a triple ARX system that incorporates a fridge, five ward box points, seven dispensary requesting terminals and a Prolog with a capacity of 42,000 packs. ‘The installation obviously required changes to be made to workflows within the dispensary and stores areas, but that has enabled us to reduce our discharge turnaround time by approximately one hour,’ said Amanda Blessington, Chief Pharmacy Technician at Blackpool, Fylde & Wyre Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. ‘The system is highly accurate so has eliminated any product picking errors.’
Since last November, the Royal Bolton Hospital has used three ARX Rowa Speedcase machines, with a capacity of 35,000 packs. Chief Pharmacist Brian Smith said they had changed the dispensary skill mix, enabling a much larger clinical presence in clinical areas. ‘The working environment in the dispensary is much less frantic, although throughput has gone up significantly. Dispensing errors have dramatically reduced.’
When the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital installed a 500,000 euros ARX system that holds around 40,000 drugs it became the world’s first pharmacy to have four robots working side-by-side.
Report: Mark Nicholls