Scottish county trials drone medical transport to NHS facilities

medical drone transport NHS

The county of Angus in eastern Scotland is teaming up with drone startup DTLX to begin testing drone transport of medical supplies between regional hospitals and labs – another example of the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) turning to UAV for faster options to ground vehicles.

The trials will operate from the coastal city of Montrose, and transport medical supplies and lab samples between various NHS facilities across Angus and those in Dundee, about 26 aerial miles south. The project will initially seek to speed up NHS efforts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. If successful, however, it could be extended across northern Scotland, where rugged terrain and large areas with sparse populations can make easy access to health care for residents a challenge.

“This level of improvement could potentially allow life-saving treatment to begin sooner by reducing testing times, speeding up diagnoses for patients, all at a reduced cost to the NHS by reducing reliance on the expensive taxi transport that currently exists,” David Fairweather, the top official of Angus’s governing council, told The Scotsman. “As significant demand for Covid-19 testing continues, we are delighted to lead the way through innovative technologies to increase connectivity with our rural facilities at a time when the NHS requires more support.”

The program will be operated out of Mercury Drone Ports, a DTLX-managed project in conjunction with Angus authorities to promote the use of UAVs in an array of public and enterprise missions. Much of that activity has thus far been providing services to offshore wind and other energy facilities, but DTLX has also been demonstrating the efficiency of the craft in other ways. The tests it will launch in March using drones to transport medical supplies for the NHS will broaden that scope of activity and usher in beyond line of visual sight flights.

The scheme also dovetails nicely with standing plans by Angus officials to encourage renewable solutions in transportation and energy across the county, and make it into a hub for emerging technologies including UAVs. The public-private Mercury Drones Port falls within that, and it’s financed from the $36 million UK government development fund for Angus and its surrounding area.

“Drones have huge potential in Scotland, from connecting health services to remote communities, to helping maintain renewable energy installations, to assisting with Scottish aquaculture and environmental monitoring,” said UK Government Minister for Scotland Iain Stewart of the project.

Angus is far from the only place in Scotland vying to stake a position in rising UAV-based activity. 

Last month the Argyll and Bute region on the nation’s west coast announced plans to use the craft to fly deliveries to the Hebrides Islands from a center it will use as a research, development, and training facility. Involved in that is drone infrastructure and transport specialist Skyports, which during various times of the pandemic has flown medical missions to remote NHS facilities in Scotland.

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