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11 September 2023

State-of-the-art robot takes centre stage in £750,000 pharmacy revamp

A self-cleaning robot which learns from its work has been installed to help staff at Sunderland Royal Hospital as part of a £750,000 new outpatient pharmacy for South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust.

Robertson Construction North East was responsible for the refurbishment, which houses the robot, providing a larger and brighter area for patients to collect their medications alongside a new waiting area set up just inside the entrance to Chester Wing.

The newly installed BD Rowa Vmax robot will help the team deliver around 60,000 prescriptions a year, with between 200 and 300 patients helped every day.

The pharmacy team has used robots to store, select, label and deliver medicines for a number of years. It installed a state-of-the-art robot in its new outpatient pharmacy in South Tyneside at the end of 2021. This new technology improves the speed that medicines are dispensed and reduces errors, improving patient experience by giving staff more time for patient care.

South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust funded the build, while the robot fit out and equipment were paid for by its subsidiary CHoICE.

It follows installation of a prescription vending machine, believed to be the first of its kind in a UK hospital, allowing patients to collect prescription medication 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at the touch of just a few buttons.

James Hubbard is Superintendent Pharmacist for CHoICE Pharmacy, which is part of CHoICE Facilities Services, a wholly owned subsidiary of South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust.

He said: "The new pharmacy looks absolutely fantastic. It's a much better environment for our patients and staff.

"We've used robots in pharmacy for a while, but this is another level. Technology is advancing what we can do all of the time. This robot has double the capacity, as it has two picking arms and can do twice as much.

"We need to keep investing in innovation so we can continue to provide the best service for our patients now and in the future."

Medicines are tipped onto a conveyor belt and pulled into the robot. The picking arms then fill the shelves – which are set up like a mini warehouse - saving staff hours and freeing them up to advise patients and carry out other tasks.

During down time, the robot's arms clean inside the storage space to keep it in good condition. The technology also keeps track of all used by dates, helping the team to stock take and keep patients safe.

The pharmacy space also has its own walk-in refrigeration room, which is an improvement on the five small fridges used before. These are used to keep drugs, such as insulin, at the right temperature.

Robertson Construction North East is involved in a number of projects at Sunderland Royal Hospital, including a £6.2 million revamp of Maternity and a £2 million project which will see the Investigation and Intervention Unit open later this year.

The site team is working alongside the Trust to help improve the experience for staff, patients and visitors, while keeping areas open so that services can continue to run.

Garry Hope, managing director, Robertson Construction North East, said: "The new pharmacy creates an enhanced working environment along with a home for the new robot which will help improve efficiencies.

"We look forward to continuing our works and supporting the Trust in delivering its vision of delivering excellence in all that it does."

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