Innovation in supply networks in NHS Scotland

For the last five years, Dr Robert van der Meer has been working on a number of projects related to innovation (typically large-scale) in supply networks of medicines and other medical items in NHS Scotland.

Large-scale automation of medicines distribution

One of these projects involved the large-scale automation of medicines distribution in NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde, which is the largest regional health organisation in the UK. The project took place between 2010 and 2012. 

The pharmacy service is delivered on 14 hospital sites, involving approximately 530 pharmacy staff and an annual expenditure on medicines of around £120 million (€138 million).

A key element in the redesign has been the opening of a Pharmacy Distribution Centre (PDC) to replace 11 different in-hospital pharmacy stores. The PDC is now the single facility responsible for the procurement and automated distribution of medicines to replenish ward and site pharmacy stocks for all hospitals and community clinics in the region. Within the PDC, eight advanced robots (ROWA VMAX Extent2) are working in tandem as an integrated storage and distribution system, with an additional robot (ROWA Speedcase Select) installed within a vault for safe and secure handling of narcotic agents. In addition, there are three areas where staff have to hand-pick items that are not suitable for robotic storage.

The capital investment in the nine robots and associated equipment was around €1.25 million. This constitutes the largest automation project (by size and scale of activity) for hospital pharmacy in the UK and, to the knowledge of the robotic system supplier, the integrated system of robots is double the size of any other current installation worldwide.

Recent projects

There have seen several follow-on projects. For example, between 2013-2014, we evaluated a trial implementation of electronic medicine cabinets to automate the supply of medicines at ward level in four major hospitals within NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde. Another project looked at ways of making ‘lean’ improvements to the supply of vaccines to school children in the Greater Glasgow area.