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The Health Dispensary


The Health Dispensary


Neath, South Wales


Ali Sparkes

As a pioneer in using technology to enhance the patient experience, Ali Sparkes was intrigued by the potential that a Pharmaself24 could bring to The Health Dispensary in Neath, South Wales at a time of change for the business.

Now effectively a part of the team, the Pharmaself24 is taking on a growing share of the pharmacy’s dispensing load, and it has helped shift the focus away medicines supply and towards supporting patients with their ongoing wellness.

The Background

Many pharmacy owners can claim to be fans of progress but Ali Sparkes is one of the few who can be labelled a true innovator.

In 2009, Ali’s pharmacy - The Health Dispensary, situated in Neath, South Wales - was the first independent pharmacy in Wales to install a dispensing robot, and was involved in the regional pilot to develop SOPs relating to the process.


Always keen to exploit technology’s potential, Ali has also contributed to a project run by the University of Swansea in conjunction with PwC looking at service innovation and product design – essentially how to make things simpler, easier and better for patients.


So, when she saw the Pharmaself24 on her Twitter timeline, it was too intriguing not to pursue further, particularly at a time when the business was undergoing a refit and Ali was addressing the broader question of how it could support a greater focus on patient services.

The Pharmaself24 Solution

Automated medicine collection was something Ali had investigated several years earlier but it took a cross-country trip to see the Pharmaself24 in action at West Elloe Pharmacy in Spalding to provide updated evidence that the technology had moved on significantly in the intervening period.

Coming away with an appreciation of the technology’s potential, Ali next needed to analyse whether it would provide a good fit for The Health Dispensary – both in terms of how it would be received by patients and also in the more practical sense of how it would be incorporated into the physical space as part of the store’s refit.

In terms of projecting the level of use for the Pharmaself24 in a competitive area, Ali reasoned that The Health Dispensary’s prominent street position would generate awareness of the service, and the ability to provide off-road parking would ensure access was not a barrier to use.

Because it is not a late-night or 24-hour pharmacy, The Health Dispensary is reliant on the strength of its customer relationships. With the Pharmaself24, it had a means to effectively extend the pharmacy’s hours of access that also dovetailed neatly with its updated approach to integrated patient health, which incorporates complementary medicine as well as mental health services.

In order to put a figure on the potential gains in efficiency, Ali multiplied the time it takes to manually hand out a bag by the number of repeats. This figure gave a rough indicator of the time that could instead be spent talking to patients at a deeper level, enabling staff to make full use of the new social space within the pharmacy that had been designed for this exact purpose.

“It’s like an extra team member in a way. It’s freed up time to a greater extent than I thought it would, which has been particularly helpful recently with unforeseen staff absences,”
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The Impact

At installation, the Pharmaself24 was slotted into an almost inch-perfect place within the recently remodelled pharmacy, avoiding any major disruption. Power and ethernet connectivity were already available and just a single light switch had to be moved as part of the process.

The Health Dispensary team took the decision to put most of their repeat prescription business into the Pharmaself24, giving patients an opportunity to judge the experience for themselves. In total, less than 5% of patients opted out from the service while the vast majority only had praise for the convenience it brought them.


For Ali, the machine comes into its own when she can hear it clicking and whirring into life shortly after the pharmacy has closed. At that point she knows it is delivering exactly what patients need, exactly when they need it, relieving a little of the stress from modern life.

By handling collections, the Pharmaself24 is also helping relieve staff stress. “It’s like an extra team member in a way. It’s freed up time to a greater extent than I thought it would, which has been particularly helpful recently with unforeseen staff absences,” says Ali. Ali and her team have taken a ‘slowly but surely’ approach to marketing the Pharmaself24 and are now seeing their approach bear fruit, with incremental growth and sign ups continually building. Word of mouth has been particularly influential, with many patients recommending the service.

The Conclusion

Time and space are the valuable elements that Ali believes automation and technology can introduce when implemented well. And it is not a simple either/or equation: some patients who use the machine to collect are still keen to engage in conversations with the pharmacy team.

As well as patients, Ali was all too aware that the addition of the Pharmaself24 brought changes to the pharmacy team. As such, she was careful to explain the vision and to back up it up with training to ensure the machine becomes embedded as part of the pharmacy’s offering.

“That’s been the biggest joy for me,” says Ali. “We’re busy and have a lot of work on, so for
die-hard dispensers, they need to see it working to understand it, but when they do, they can
see how it all fits and their excitement translates to the customers as well.”

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