Hospital staffed by robot orderlies

In HG Wells’ The Time Machine, the brutish Morlocks live underground, appearing only to service the needs of the beautiful but weedy Eloi.

And managers at the new Forth Valley Royal Hospital in Scotland reckon it’s such a good plan that they’re following suit, with robots replacing the Morlocks.

A tribe of robots will live underground at the hospital, emerging to bring meals and clean linen to patients and dispose of clinical waste. They will also clean rooms, including operating theaters, and dispense drugs.

“Innovative design will allow built-in systems to take care of delivering supplies, equipment and laundry, while our portering team will concentrate, with their clinical colleagues, on the needs of patients. This will also provide a better environment for infection control,” said Christopher Hyman, chief executive of contractor Serco Group.

Hospital staff use PDAs to summon the robots, which come via the service lifts, do as they’re told, and then disappear. They move around using laser sights to follow a set of pre-programmed routes. Sensors allow them to avoid obstacles

One big advantage of using robots, says Forth Valley, is that different teams can be used for dirty and clean tasks, minimising the risk of infection. There are even separate lifts and underground corridors for the two teams.

“Traditionally clean and dirty tasks are carried out by the same person,” infection control nurse Lesley Shepherd told the BBC.

“Here, you’ll have the robots that do dirty tasks, so they may take dirty linen or clinical waste away, and you’ll have robots that do clean tasks, such as bringing meals and clean linen to patients.

The robots are currently undergoing testing ahead of the £300 million hospital’s official opening in August.