Members Login


Automation - The Implications for Dispensing Practice


The Implications of Automated Dispensing in GP Practice

by Ailsa Colquhoun of the DDA

There is a growing political will to see greater use made of centralised dispensing and legislative changes first mooted (and then abandoned) in 2016 are again planned to increase the extent of centralised dispensing (also known as hub and spoke dispensing): current models typically focus on repeat dispensing of compliance aids.

Under existing legislation, dispensing and supply of dispensed medicines has to be done by the same legal entity. As hub and spoke dispensing efficiency increases with greater volume it is something that the larger pharmacy multiples have adopted, although some smaller chains have also introduced repeat dispensing hubs into their own business.

Regulatory changes now under review as part of the community pharmacy contract announced in 2019  will be needed  will allow more than one legal entity to be involved in the dispensing process, paving the way for buying groups or federations of businesses and even, member organisations, to set up dispensing hubs on behalf of members, and across professional boundaries.

This change is intended to allow all spoke pharmacies to significantly free up workload so that pharmacists are able to spend more time with patients to help reduce GP workload. There are possibly accuracy gains as well from use of automation. However, fears have been raised that increased use of hub and spoke may lead to a reduction in dispensing fees, and estimates have suggested that cuts could run into hundreds of million Pounds – and that is before the fee is shared between hub and spoke.

Department of Health estimates suggest that two thirds of dispensing volume could be dealt with by hub and spoke,  but the large pharmacy multiples, whose experience of hub and spoke goes back to 2008, question the potential cost savings and benefits of hub and spoke posited by the Department of Health.

Among the confounding factors are the practicalities of fridge lines and cold chain monitoring, as well as controlled drugs, the potential effect of the Falsified Medicines Directive, and of reducing dispensing fees on pharmacy viability – which could see minor ailment workload transfer back to GPs and other NHS services.

Dispensing practices will share many independent pharmacy sector concerns; in particular the effect of reducing dispensing fees on the wider practice service provision, and the potential for dispensing patients to opt to use non GP-owned hub dispensing services. If hub services gain excessive market share, they may also be able to impose unfavourable trading terms on the spoke operation.

NHS digitisation and automation are key topics under discussion at the DDA conference 2019,  where the DDA Board is available to talk through any concerns or questions you may have.

Further information on the DDA 2019 conference programme is available from the DDA website,

Further information on the implications of hub and spoke for dispensing practices is available on the DDA website here