Managing controlled drugs safely

All organisations are required to have governance arrangements in place to ensure the safe storage, management and use of controlled drugs in line with the Misuse of Drugs Act and the Controlled Drugs Regulations 2013. Assurance in adhering to the legal requirements has been a challenge to the Accountable Officers in hospitals over the years with the processes involved in the safe dispensing of controlled drugs often being time-consuming for pharmacy staff and potentially frustrating for patients waiting for their medicines to be supplied. Now, new technology is helping pharmacy to manage controlled drugs safer and faster making a real difference to patients on controlled medication. The technology streamlines processes, replaces manual systems and improves the speed and efficiency of controlled drug management enabling compliance with the legislation.

At St James’ University Hospital, we issue 2,000 controlled drug items every month and we count the stock daily. Approximately 2,500 packs of controlled drugs are stocked within the pharmacy department which have a total value of £15k. On reviewing our processes we found that every day staff were spending three hours, almost half of their shift, making records in controlled drugs’ registers. In addition, the dispensing process itself was time-consuming with nine steps involved for the supply of each individual controlled drug. We recognised that these administration tasks, undertaken by our experienced team, represented time taken away from patient facing activities – the central value of our profession.

Leeds Teaching Hospitals was looking for a solution that would automate the storage and supply of medicines within wards and departments and would significantly improve the efficiency, security and transparency of medicines management throughout our organisation. I believe that innovation through better technology will improve our processes and will bring better and safer patient care. This technology will help us in pharmacy deliver our goal; – the right drug for the right patient at the right time.

Healthcare can be seen to be frustratingly late to the digital party in comparison to other industries. Yet when the significant increase in workload occurring in the NHS, is considered, and the challenges within secondary care, it is essential we embrace new technology to help deliver more efficient services. Improved efficiency releases time for patient care and creates financial benefits for the health service as a whole.  Technological change can improve patient safety, which must be at the top of every hospital’s agenda, and especially so when it comes to medication delivery and adherence.

The introduction of the Omnicell cabinet at St James’ University Hospital has resulted in a significant number of benefits. These include a now paperless process for supply of controlled drugs from the pharmacy, and this has halved the time taken in dispensing and accurately checking. The supply of one controlled drug item has reduced from 6.5 minutes to 3minutes, as well as creating a more “lean” dispensing process reducing from the 9 previous steps to 6. Since installing Omnicell, the Trust has made a cost saving of £29,000 in staff time as a result of no longer requiring one member of staff who has been redeployed to a vacant post.

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