Implementation of a large-scale robotic storage & distribution system for hospital medicines

Who's involved?

Our research

Our research (from 2010, but still ongoing) into the application of new technology in healthcare has supported the implementation (in 2010) of a new, centralised Pharmacy Distribution Centre (PDC) to replace 11 different in-hospital pharmacy stores in NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde.

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 (ROWAVMAX 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.

The capital investment in the nine robots and associated equipment was around £1.1 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.

The immediate beneficiaries of our research have been the senior management of the Pharmacy and Prescribing Support Unit (PPSU) of NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde. But more widely, the robotics project described above has been attracting interest from hospital pharmacists across Europe.

Our research has come to the attention of this wider group of beneficiaries through a publication in the European Journal of Hospital Pharmacy in 2013 (with more in the pipeline), a number of papers at academic conferences, as well as presentations to international pharmacy audiences, including the Congress of the European Association of Hospital Pharmacists (EAHP) in March 2015 in Hamburg. The application of this research has directly benefited NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde in terms of substantial (and documented) quality improvements and efficiency savings, but it can also act as an exemplar of the successful implementation of robotics technology in other healthcare organisations.

The research outputs provided PPSU with evidence to support their redesign efforts. It also provided a background to support future endeavours to expand upon the robotics profile within NHS GG&C and beyond, as future work on the automation of hospital ward cabinets is undertaken and due to continue throughout the health board and beyond over the coming months/years.

Overall, efficiency savings of over £1 million were achieved through implementation of the new system, as well as release of floor space, reduction in medicines waste and redeployment of pharmacy staff  to focus on more clinical patient facing duties. The success of the in-hospital robotics system has led to the award of funding to look at piloting robotics in community pharmacies. This pilot study commenced early in 2017.