Dave Rowlands, Logistics Medicines Manager for Boots the Chemist, stated recently that major UK Wholesalers are expected to achieve and set the standards. He was referring to the established cold chain operated by Boots for the distribution of both pharmaceutical products across the country to their 1400 stores. They have 14 distribution centres where the “PILS trailers” (as they are named by Boots’ warehouse staff!) are cross-docked into local distribution vehicles. The vehicle fleet is operated and managed by Exel and this cold chain has no refrigerated vehicles – they use Olivo insulated portable containers to give them the protection and control that they require for their products.
Primary distribution of pharmaceutical products is from the main temperature-controlled dispensing warehouse at Beeston, near Nottingham, to the 14 Distribution Centres using 100 Olivo Roll 370 containers. Two half size Euro trays (400 x 300mm) fit in each layer in the containers. A total of over 380 Olivo 55 litre top-opening containers are stored at the different Distribution Centres and the products are transferred to these for the local deliveries to the pharmacies. The trained store staff ensure that when the local delivery vehicle arrives, the products, which at that point are unloaded from the Bac 55’s, are moved instantly into the pharmacy’s own refrigerated storage before being dispensed against customers’ prescriptions.
The product licence requires that a constant temperature of between +2 and +8 degrees is maintained at all times. The refrigeration in both sizes of containers is by specially developed “pharmaceutical” eutectic plates. Planned as well as unplanned inspections are carried out by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, which is the regulatory arm of the Department of Health.
A lengthy test and development period for this system using the smaller chest containers was carried out in 1998/99. This followed Boots successful use of the larger roll containers since 1997. There is no change in today’s operations other than that of temperature monitoring which is carried out to a much higher level of accuracy than in the past as regulatory changes now require more validation of temperatures. To Boots, it is crucial that they comply with the stringent standards necessary to demonstrate “Good Distribution Practice of Medicinal Products”, in particular those needing specialised storage and distribution.
The famous fresh sandwiches (1 million per week!) and other chilled foods are delivered daily through two main Chilled Food Distribution Centres in Dronfield (Yorkshire) and Chelmsford (Essex) using over 4,000 Olivo Roll 500 containers. The sandwiches come from Boots suppliers in bulk direct to these two centres and are order assembled for each store into the Olivo containers. These are actually taken into the stores for unloading direct into the display cabinets and, of course, back up stock is held at each store daily in a container so there is no break in the cold chain. Basically, the stores then have their own small mobile chilled store.
For this unique operation with food and pharmaceuticals, Dave Rowlands said: “Insulated containers make total sense and keep our distribution costs down by obviating the need for refrigerated vehicles – and their complication and costs!”