The 70 mph drones taking hospital medical supplies to the skies

An NHS fund has started transporting medication, blood samples and chemotherapy drugs between hospitals using 70mph drones.

Northumbria Healthcare is testing a scheme that will see unmanned vehicles take to the skies in a bid to shorten delivery times and reduce carbon emissions.

Electric drones will transport clinical supplies, prescriptions, blood bags and mail between three hospitals across the county for the next four months.

Originally, there will be six test flights per day, which will increase to 15 in May if the test is successful.

The innovative NHS project will take place at Wansbeck General Hospital in Ashington, Alnwick Infirmary and Berwick Infirmary.

Trust says the study will collect logistical data and assess impact on patient experience, staff resources, and environmental benefits.

The test aims to reduce lead times and reduce carbon emissions (Northumbria Healthcare/SWNS)

Sir James Mackey, chief executive of the Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, said: “As an innovative and forward-looking organisation, we are always interested in exploring initiatives that could improve the way we provide care to our communities.

“With the area we cover and the number of hospitals and other sites we manage, it’s vital to have effective logistics to get supplies where they need to be, while always being mindful of our need to increase efficiency and reduce our impact on the environment.

“The use of drones has the potential to help us deliver important medicines and supplies in a better and smarter way, so we are looking forward to seeing what the test flights will look like.

“We are committed to providing as much care as possible in our outlying communities, so logistical routes to Alnwick and Berwick are an important focus.”

The trust has partnered with Apian, a company developed through the NHS Clinical Entrepreneurs Program to explore the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has approved test flights from today (Monday) until May 12.

Drone flights will increase to 15 per day if test is successful (Northumbria Healthcare/SWNS)

Drone flights will increase to 15 per day if test is successful (Northumbria Healthcare/SWNS)

The trust believes that drones will help reduce lead times due to the largely rural make-up of its Northumberland and North Tyneside patch.

The project will use all-electric aircraft, which can take off and land vertically like a helicopter and fly horizontally like an airplane by combining fixed wings with rotors.

The UAVs, which are managed by Skyports Drone Services, can carry up to 3kg of payload and have a top speed of 110km/h (nearly 70mph).

Apian’s co-founder and chief medical officer, Dr. Christopher Law, said: “This study builds on Apian’s work in the Solent, where we flew the world’s first chemotherapy and delivered the UK’s first prescription drug by drone.

“While there is still much work to be done before UAVs can operate autonomously in desegregated airspace, there is an equal and opposite amount of evidence for Apian to gather about how on-demand delivery can impact health, just as it affects our personal lives.”

A spokesperson for Northumbria Healthcare added: “This trial is a critical step towards greater acceptance and use of UAVs to support the NHS to build capacity in existing strained supply chains.

“Apian, not the NHS, is funding the trial. In doing so, there is an opportunity to evaluate and test the hypothesis that UAVs can deliver critical medical items as efficiently as the internet moves information.

“It will help to reduce costs for the NHS and taxpayers through automation, respond to the climate emergency, create new local employment opportunities and, most importantly, enable better patient care.”

The 70 mph drones taking hospital medical supplies to the skies

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