Robot joins pharmacy at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn

Nicola Berns inside the robot's storage area. Picture: QEH

Nicola Berns inside the robot's storage area. Picture: QEH - Credit: Archant

A hospital pharmacy now has a robot working in it.

Nicola Berns inputs a prescription. Picture: QEH

Nicola Berns inputs a prescription. Picture: QEH - Credit: Archant

The new £600,000 storage and dispensing system has been installed at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn.

Chief pharmacist Nicola Berns said she was delighted with the system.

'A robot is inherently more accurate than a person so patient safety is improved,' she said.

'It also improves the speed of dispensing so we're seeing reduced waiting times and improved patient flow.

The robot at work. Picture: QEH

The robot at work. Picture: QEH - Credit: Archant

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'We're really pleased with it and it's already making a huge difference.'

The BD Rowa Vmax system has the capacity to store more than 17,000 different packs. They are introduced via a hopper, which can take hundreds of packs at a time and work 24/7.

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Every pack's barcode and expiry date is read before being stored, ready for picking by one of the robot's two arms when a prescription is entered. Part-packs of drugs can also be introduced, optimising the use of medicines and reducing wastage.

The system is so precise that an item accidentally displaced from its proper storage position by even a millimetre or two will cause a shutdown until the issue is rectified by staff. This ensures that accuracy of dispensing is always maintained.

Nicola Berns with pharmacy staff. Picture: QEH

Nicola Berns with pharmacy staff. Picture: QEH - Credit: Archant

The introduction of the system has been welcomed by staff, as it has improved the efficiency of dispensing and the design of the pharmacy, creating a more spacious and pleasant environment. Within the next year the robot will be able to add labels to boxes.

'It's changed the way we work,' said Mrs Berns. 'We used to have people running around dispensing but the robot enables us to spend more time on people-facing activities such as reviewing drugs with patients, ward rounds and medicines optimisation.'

She paid tribute to all the partners involved in the project, including the 60 pharmacy staff members, adding: 'It's been a really challenging time, particularly during January and February while the robot was being installed.

'This transformation was necessary as the hospital was getting busier and busier but the pharmacy's capacity had stayed the same. The robot has made things much more manageable and we now have a system capable of delivering a safe and speedy operation long into the future.'

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