First pharmacy-based automated needle exchange opens in Lincolnshire

Needle-dispensing vending machine provides prepacked kits saving the pharmacist from having to assemble packs.

Chris Mulimba, left, pharmacy superintendent at The Riverside Pharmacy with Dimple Oza, senior pharmacist for Addaction Lincolnshire

What is thought to be the first automated clean needle dispenser in a UK community pharmacy opened in Sleaford in Lincolnshire in January 2018.

The dispenser, which is based on a vending machine model, has been installed in the pharmacy to address limited provision of clean needles for people who inject drugs in the area.

Sleaford had been without a permanent needle exchange since September 2017, and been reliant on mobile provision.

Although possibly unique in the UK, needle exchange vending machines are widely used in Australia, and Dimple Oza, senior pharmacist for Addaction Lincolnshire, which runs substance and drug misuse services in the area for Lincolnshire County Council, worked with community pharmacies and other stakeholders to develop the idea in Lincolnshire.

A custom-built needle dispensing machine has now been installed at The Riverside Pharmacy in Sleaford.

Oza said: “Addaction’s sterile needle dispenser in Sleaford, although not 100% automated, was considered an ideal solution for numerous reasons. For instance: pharmacy staff do not need to handle needles; it’s a quicker and easier process for all concerned; it frees up pharmacy staff time; takes up no space behind the counter; and saves costs on building modifications which may have been necessary in a traditional needle exchange setting.”

The first time a drug user wanting to use the service attends the pharmacy, they will have to exchange and be asked to provide some information to register to use the service. They will then be given a plastic token to work the machine, which is located away from the shop floor in a consultation room. The machine dispenses 1ml or 2ml sterile prepared kits and there is a sharps bin alongside it in which clients can dispose of their used needle to receive another token when they return for another pack.

“In each pack they will also find a harm reduction information leaflet and local contacts for Addaction should they need help. It’s safe and secure; people can access sterilised equipment, find local support, hopefully go into recovery and improve their lives,” said Chris Mulimba, pharmacy superintendent at The Riverside Pharmacy.

He added that the service was not very different from the standard needle exchange programme found in many pharmacies. “The only difference is the packs are already prepacked with everything they need so we don’t have to assemble it. It saves time on our part.

“With the standard service you have to assemble it. They tell you what they need and you put it all together for them.”

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, February 2018, Vol 300, No 7910;300(7910):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2018.20204341

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