Wexham Park Hospital robots to tackle 'serious drug errors'

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Pharmacy robot at Wexham Park HospitalImage source, Wexham Park Hospital
Image caption,
The two robots are the first in the UK to transport medication via 200m air tubes to the pharmacist, according to the hospital

Robots have been brought in to dispense medicine at a Slough hospital to combat "serious" human errors in handing out prescriptions.

Wexham Park Hospital, whose NHS Trust is £6.9m in debt, said the £600,000 system would ensure "patient safety".

Its 2013 inspection report detailed adult doses being given to children, among the 48 errors made in one month.

Patient Concern said robots would not eliminate all errors as humans still had to input the information.

'Not a necessity'

Heatherwood and Wexham Park Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust invested in the Dutch-built robots, dubbed Tom and Jerry, just before medicine dispensing concerns were published by Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspectors in July 2013.

The hospital's CQC report stated minutes from a trust board meeting in March 2013 revealed the pharmacy team had to correct 48 prescribing errors during a review of 177 drugs charts.

The trust's chief pharmacist Dennis Lauder said: "It's fair to say over the last five to 10 years there have been a handful of serious errors.

He said the robots "eliminate the possibility of picking errors" because they scanned the barcodes on the packets.

Patient Concern co-director Robert Goss said such a system to a debt-ridden trust was "not a necessity".

"A machine doing the job may reduce the risk, but we all know that a machine depends 100% on the accuracy of what is being typed in," he said.

Mr Lauder said investing in the robots while the trust is in debt was justified.

"What price do you put on patient safety?" he asked.

He added that waiting times for medication would be reduced from about two hours to one hour, and that the robots would free pharmacy staff to spend more time with patients on wards.

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