A new series of trials is set to begin in the UK today using drones to transport patient samples, medicines, and other materials between healthcare facilities – a specialized form of UAV deployment that’s swiftly multiplying around the globe.
The Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, which is part of the UK’s National Health Service, is kicking off the drone trials that were initially announced seven months ago, and which participating healthcare centers and trial operators have been organizing since. Also involved in the program is the UAV services unit of Skyports, and Apian, a startup focused on using aerial tech to improve medical transportation that’s funding the project.
The tests will fly drones carrying up to 3 kg of healthcare payloads up to 110 km/h over a designated corridor in Northumbria, on the northeast coast of England. Starting at six sorties per day before gradually increasing the rate to 15, the program will speed chemotherapy medication from the Wansbeck General Hospital in Ashington up to infirmaries in Alnwick and Berwick farther north, then bring pathology samples to Wansbeck on the return flights.
Read: Drones to speed UK hospital transport of patient lab samples
The UK drone delivery trial kicks off today, and will run through May 12, when feedback from participating healthcare centers, program operators, and members of surrounding communities will be studied to analyze the prospects of launching permanent aerial services. That eventuality is one the Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust is is already looking forward to.
“With the area we cover and the number of hospitals and other sites we manage, having effective logistics to get supplies where they need to be is vital,” said Trust chief executive James Mackey. “Using drones has the potential to help us deliver important drugs and supplies in a better, smarter way, so we are looking forward to seeing how the test flights go.”
The UK has been active in pursuing drone transport of supplies for healthcare services. Trials have included flights of chemotherapy medicine to the Isle of Wight, shuttles of COVID-19 vaccines and protective gear during spikes in the pandemic, and the ongoing creation of a network Scotland says will be the first of a kind covering an entire nation.
Read more: Isle of Wight to test drone deliveries of chemotherapy
Other countries have also been pursuing the use of UAVs in improving medical care. Earlier this month Australian drone transport and logistics specialist Swoop Aero said it will be launching those operations between towns in New Zealand – similar to domestic services it is running in Queensland.
Drone transport companies in US, France, and Switzerland have also begun operating drone services transporting medicine, patient samples, and other materials between healthcare facilities. In addition to burgeoning retail deliveries, medical applications are arguably among the most robust growth areas within UAV activity.
Photo: Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust