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‘First’ Pharmacy-Based Needle Exchange Vending Machine in UK

A pharmacy in Lincolnshire has become the first in the UK to offer a needle exchange service using a vending machine, according to a charity.

Drug, alcohol and mental health charity Addaction approached Riverside Pharmacy in Sleaford about installing the vending machine, the organisation said in a statement last week.

The charity helped superintendent pharmacist Chris Mulimba acquire the custom-fit machine from injection equipment suppliers Orion Medical Supplies, it said.

The service operates from the pharmacy’s consultation room, where patients can place any used needles in a bin before operating the vending machine with a plastic token given out by the pharmacy staff.

Mr Mulimba told C+D last week that the semi-automated machine “halves the time” taken by staff to complete a needle exchange, bringing it down to five minutes.

“A traditional method takes 10 minutes – you have to assemble the indvidual [pack],” Mr Mulimba explained. “The [vending machine] has everything pre-packed; the only time it takes is talking to the client about harm reduction.”

“My pharmacy has a small, very busy counter. Introducing a full-scale needle exchange service wasn’t going to be feasible, because staff would be put under a lot of pressure,” Mr Mulimba added.

The method offers better face-to-face interaction than available during over-the-counter dispensing, as staff and patients have a chance to speak privately in the consultation room, Mr Mulimba said.

Riverside’s staff were “not keen” on offering the service initially, but their attitudes changed after they had completed a half-day’s online training, he said.

The machine was funded by the charity, which also provided training for staff in conjunction with Orion. The pharmacy receives £1.25 from Addaction* for every two packs dispensed.

Ten patients have already used the service since the pharmacy launched it on January 2, Mr Mulimba told C+D.

“They have come back with used needles to dispose of, which is the main thing,” he said.

Sleaford had not had a full needle exchange service since September last year, according to Addaction.

The charity’s senior pharmacist Dimple Oza said the machine “takes up no space behind the counter and saves costs on building modifications, which may have been necessary in a traditional needle exchange setting”.

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