NHS launches drone delivery for Covid-19 samples

Drones have started delivering Covid-19 test samples between NHS medical facilities in the Scottish region of Argyll & Bute.

Skyports, which operates the drones, has become the first operator to receive permission by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to carry diagnostic specimens by drone.

After a proof-of-concept phase last year, the three-month initiative has been expanded and is now fully operation.

The drones are able to carry up to 3kg of critical medical supplies up to 40 miles and cargo carried will include COVID-19 and other test samples, medicine, essential personal protective equipment (PPE) and COVID-19 testing kits.

The delivery drones give access to remote areas, signififcantly increasing the speed of transport and reducing times in some areas of the Argyll & Bute region from up to 36 hours for a road and ferry journey to 15 mins, while also increasing the frequency of pick- ups.

At first the delivery service will operate between Lorn & Islands Hospital in Oban, Mid-Argyll Community Hospital in Lochgilphead, Easdale Medical Practice in Clachan Seil and the Mull & Iona Community Hospital in Craignure.

The project has been funded by a joint initiative between the UK Space Agency (UKSA) and European Space Agency (ESA) Space Solutions to utilise space-enabled technology and services that can support the NHS.

“Using drone deliveries within supply chains can create significant time and cost savings,” said Duncan Walker, chief executive officer, Skyports. “This initiative is a natural progression from our recent trials with the NHS in Scotland as we scale our operations, supporting a wider network of hospitals and medical practices as they continue to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

He added: “The experience from this important initiative will put us another step closer to permanent operations from which we hope more NHS facilities could soon benefit. This project underscores the viability of drone technology as a practical way to move goods.”

Stephen Whiston, head of strategic planning for Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership, said: “Argyll and Bute HSCP is delighted to once again be at the forefront of using this innovative technology to assess how unmanned drones can enhance our logistics operations and improve services for patients and clinicians in some of our most remote and island communities. This three-month project working with Skyports will provide critical evidence on the real benefits this technology can bring to the NHS not only in Argyll and Bute but across Scotland.”

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