NHS expands drone transport of medical supplies after successful trial

The expanded test project will deliver medical supplies to remote Scottish regions after a successful trial, and raises hopes of fast medical supply deliveries.

The new test, which will take place in the winter, will involve flying blood and fluid samples from Hebridean islands such as Coll and Tiree to hospital labs on the mainland to cut the time needed to take them by road and ferry.

London-based firm Skyports will be working with NHS Highland, which serves a group of islands off the west coast of Scotland, to use the drones to deliver medical supplies and samples from a hospital on the Argyll and Bute mainland.

Backed by the UK Space Agency, the new test will allow NHS Highland to confirm whether drones can be permanently integrated into its transport of emergency supplies and test samples.

Drones will use mobile connectivity, satellite communications and navigation, and Earth observation data, to chart a course to other areas of the mainland and across the sea to nearby islands to reach medical practices in need.

The new test will take place in the winter in the Highlands and could be a much quicker way to deliver medical supplies to vulnerable people. (Jason Blackeye, Unsplash)

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: “I’m proud of how our world-leading space sector is stepping up to provide innovative solutions to directly support our amazing NHS, as we continue our national effort to tackling coronavirus.

“The projects we are backing today show UK ingenuity at its finest, and will make a real difference to how we use this latest innovative technology to deliver critical healthcare now and long into the future.”

The space-enabled solutions include satellite communications, satellite navigation and Earth observation satellites.

Professor Tony Young, the NHS national clinical lead for innovation, said: “The NHS Long Term Plan is bringing new technologies into the NHS to improve patient care and save lives, and as we deal with the greatest challenge in the NHS’ history, innovation in medicine and convenient, faster technology are helping frontline staff to give people world-leading treatment for Covid-19 alongside care for killer conditions including cancer.”

The agency said its funding, which includes support for projects on mental health and loneliness using satellite technology, was intended to bolster the NHS’s capacity to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

UK Government Minister for Scotland Iain Stewart said it is “great” that the UK Space Agency is supporting the project and that he “welcome[s]” the scheme.

“I welcome the innovative Skyports and NHS Highland scheme to use space-enabled drones to deliver crucial testing and medical supplies from the mainland to islands off the west coast of Scotland,” he said.

“And I congratulate Musselburgh-based Stevenson Astrosat for securing funding to develop a high-tech solution for targeting support to vulnerable communities.”

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