Nurses, those caring people who have pulled many a patient back from the brink with their expertise, brow-wiping and tender words, are likely to be replaced soon by yards of wiring, transistors, hydraulics, a motherboard and light-emitting diodes. Enter the Robo-nurse.

Scientists have been developing robots to treat patients and ease staff shortages. This week ministers will announce plans to develop robotic "medical assistants". In trials, robots that check patients' ID tags and give them their drugs have cut down dispensing errors. Experts believe they could soon be taking patients' temperatures, helping to clean and even carrying out consultations with doctors via video-link. But no mutton-chop sleeves or upside-down fob watches. Or smiles.

Scientists in Newcastle and Warwick are working on an EU-funded project to produce a robotic nurse in three years. Charing Cross Hospital in London has already installed a robot in its pharmacy to dispense drugs.

Lord Hunt, the health minister, said: "These robots will reduce errors and free up staff time which can be better spent caring directly for patients. We would like to see more of this kind of innovation in helping to transform patient care."

A Department of Health source said: "One robot being developed goes around wards and is shaped like a dustbin with a computer monitor face. Another robot has a C3P0-type arm and mixes cancer drugs at amazing speeds."