Years ago, as a new councillor, one of the old salts told me that he now couldn’t go anywhere in the country without seeing a housing estate and looking for indications of how many of the houses or flats had been bought or how the estate was managed.

I’ve found myself doing the same looking at public sector organisations. So today, at St Thomas’ hospital I was taken with the robot dispenser in the hospital pharmacy which you can see going through the motions in the YouTube video above. Apparently it works by placing drugs where they fit, so they are stored in the most space efficient way, then remembering the location. It will then retrieve drugs within 10 seconds of them being requested. It is quite mesmerizing to watch and MiniMe and I enjoyed seeing boxes with names I couldn’t pronounce being moved around (as well as nicotine patches, they had lots of those).

However, given that the advertised wait time for dispensing prescriptions was 15-20 minutes I couldn’t help feeling that the space saved and time saved by having a robot, rather than a human, go to a shelf and get some tablets hasn’t really made that much difference to the patient experience – who still have to sit in a waiting area and have fairly minimal human contact with the pharmacist through a small, bank-style, dispensing window.

Guy’s and St Thomas’ is a good NHS Trust, so I don’t mean any criticism, but my equivalent of asking myself about the housing mix is to look and wonder whether the design took more account of measurable outputs, like how long it take to retrieve a drug, than the important outcomes, like informed and happy patients. Too often the public sector concentrates too much on what it can measure (and is new shiny), rather than on what’s important.

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