Published on: 6 October 2022

A hospital has become the first in the country to install a vending machine which allows patients to access their prescription medication 24/7 at the touch of a few buttons.

It has been installed in the main entrance at Sunderland Royal Hospital after South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation

Trust decided to put the technology to the test.

The Pharmaself24 was piloted thanks to the support of around 100 patients who have rheumatoid arthritis, allowing them to access their medication at any time of the day.

They are given a quarterly supply of an immunosuppressant drug called methotrexate, which is only available via a hospital service, following their usual consultation over the phone.

Using the machine means the patients can access their medication at their own convenience and don’t have to queue at the pharmacy. 

Now, following a 12 month trial and positive feedback, the system is set to be used by other patients such as those treated by its renal department. The team is also looking at adding further machines in other locations.

The secure machines are used by some community pharmacies, but the Trust believes it is the first in the UK to have one installed in a hospital.

James Hubbard is the Superintendent Pharmacist for City Hospitals Independent Commercial Enterprises Ltd (CHoICE) which runs pharmacy services for the Trust.

He said:

“We are delighted to be the first hospital in the country to utilise new technology to allow our patients to pick up their prescriptions 24/7. 

“The machine complements the week day service we offer from our outpatient pharmacy, but gives our patients more choice and flexibility around when they want to collect their prescriptions. 

“Technology and medicine is always advancing and it’s important we keep up with these changes and look at how we can improve experiences for our patients. Following the successful trial we hope to be able install more of the machines across our other Trust venues.”

James Hubbard, Superintendent Pharmacist for CHoICE, with the prescription vending machine at Sunderland Royal Hospital.jpeg

James Hubbard, Superintendent Pharmacist for CHoICE, with the vending machine.

A patient who has signed up to the service receives a message to say their supply is ready to collect and they are sent a six-digit pin code to tap into the machine.

They answer a series of questions, as they would if they were visiting the pharmacy in person to ensure the medication is right for them, before a robot arm inside picks up the prescription, deposits it down a chute and into a drawer to pick up.

The technology takes just moments to dispense the ready-packed medication, just as it would be presented over the counter.