Welsh pharmacy chain owner Paul Mayberry tells The Pharmacist how investing in technology has revolutionised the way he and his team work

Over the past few years, a wave of technological improvements has hit the NHS.

From the implementation of robotic dispensing in hospitals to machines taking blood pressure in GP practices, NHS England is increasingly embracing automation.

In September, it revealed that it was considering using artificial intelligence and ‘machine learning’ in areas, such as radiology, dermatology and pathology.

Some community pharmacists have turned to robots to take on the brunt of their dispensing workload, leaving them with more time to take on more clinical services.

Adding value

The word ‘robot’ may conjure up the image of machines resembling human beings, but the reality is slightly different.

Robots in community pharmacies are currently dispensing machines, usually made of mechanic arms.

Paul Mayberry, pharmacy owner of seven pharmacies in Wales, understood that if he wanted to make efficiencies, he had to implement leaner processes.

He says: ‘Our pharmacists are highly trained and expensive and I wanted to make most use of them so I looked where I could add value to the process.

‘In most pharmacies, they are involved in every aspect of the dispensing process, from ordering stock to labelling.

‘But they only add value in two places, the clinical check on prescription and spending time with the patients to talk about their medicines. Every thing else can be delegated to somebody else, such as the technician.

That’s why he decided to get two dispensing robots eight years ago.

Freeing up time

Robot dispensers are simple to use, according to Mr Mayberry. The pharmacy staff scan the 2D barcode on the prescription form. The information is sent to a central hub in Blackwood where the robots get the medicine from the shelf.

Accredited accuracy-checking pharmacy technicians make sure that the product matches the prescription, pack it and deliver it to the pharmacy.

If the dispensing process doesn’t allow pharmacies to save money, it does offer more time that can be reallocated to patients.

‘It frees up my pharmacists’ time to spend more time with patients and make sure they get what they need, take their tablets correctly, or talk about side effects without going back to their doctors to get the medication changed,’ says Mr Mayberry.

With extra time, pharmacists can do more clinical services, which are usually done in GP practices, such as managing repeat dispensing and conducting respiratory, diabetes and low-pressure checks.

Mr Mayberry realised that, after spending more time with patients coming to his pharmacies with statin prescriptions, 40% of them never came back.

He says: ‘People would go to the doctor, somebody would test them and realise they’re not taking their medicine properly. They’d then go the hospital, book an appointment, go back to their GP and came back to the pharmacy with a new prescription.

‘Those patients, who have high blood pressure, are more likely to suffer a condition, such as a heart attack or a stroke, at the costs of the NHS. 

‘I don’t see a future where robots replace pharmacists, but rather the boring part of the dispensing process,’ says Mr Mayberry.