Robot litter pickers could be deployed to keep wards clean at a new £500million hospital in Lanarkshire.

NHS Lanarkshire is considering the use of Automated guided vehicles (AGVs) to collect waste and deliver supplies to wards and departments at Monklands Hospital in Airdrie.

Public procurement documents state the technology will “undertake the movement of receptacles/goods without the need for human intervention”.

The health board has approved plans to replace the existing 40-year-old building with Scotland’s first net zero ‘digital hospital’ in Wester Moffat on the outskirts of Airdrie.

Glasgow Times:

Unison, which represents NHS cleaners and porters, said that historically the union had no issues with the use of robotics “for roles such as this” and said it was not aware of any branch concerns.

The health board said no decision had been taken but it expects a “greater workload” at the new hospital.

Robotic technology is already in use at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow where automated guided vehicles act as robot porters to carry medical supplies, linen, food and waste around the site.

Once programmed by a member of the transport team, the robots, designed by Switzerland-based Swisslog, carry their loads around the miles of corridors beneath the two hospitals, using their own smart lifts to get to the necessary floor.

Glasgow Times:

Hospital managers say the technology frees up porters’ time to carry out other tasks, such as moving patients.

The AGVs have sensors that stop them bumping into walls, objects, people, or each other, while there is a left-lane system in place in the corridors.

Graeme Reid, Monklands Replacement Project Director, said: “As part of the development of the new state-of-the-art University Monklands Hospital, NHS Lanarkshire is seeking information on automated solutions that may support clinical and operational colleague, including areas such as minimising manual handling risks. 

“These are already being used in existing Scottish hospitals including Forth Valley Royal Hospital and the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, Glasgow.

“Whilst no decision has been on their use at this time, NHS Lanarkshire does expect an increase in workload across the new hospital.”

Robots are also increasingly being used to assist with surgery in the NHS.

The Scottish Government has invested £20 million in 10 surgical robots which it says will result in less invasive procedures and boost hospital capacity.

The Robotic-Assisted Surgery systems will be used primarily for cancer treatment, including urological, colorectal and gynaecological operations.

They use mechanical arms attached to cameras and surgical instruments, operated by a surgeon from a console within the theatre. This new technology makes significantly smaller incisions than required for traditional surgery.

The new hospital will provide 400-500 patient beds and is expected to be opened in 2028.

Plans have been drawn up by Keppie Design serving as architect for the Monklands Replacement Project. The value of the contract could rise to £800m depending on the extent of road access works.

An expanded ground floor would allow vital departments including emergency, radiology, outpatients, cancer care and radiotherapy to be located together.

Three more levels will be added to the building, housing specialisms such as care of the elderly, dialysis and infectious diseases on the lowest floor; cardiology, respirator, renal, ear nose and throat plus operating theatres on the first floor; and haematology, orthopaedics, gastroenterology, urology and medicine on the top level.