NHS expands delivery of medical supplies by drone from Scottish islands

After successful recent trials, the delivery of urgent medical supplies and samples by drone will be expanded from the Scottish islands later this year.

NHS expands delivery of medical supplies by drone from Scottish islands

The test that are planned for later this year during much tougher winter flying conditions will include delivering blood and fluid samples by drone from Hebridean islands to hospital labs on the mainland. The drone flights are performed by the NHS Highland and the London-based firm Skyports.

The Guardian reports that the longer trial, funded by the UK Space Agency, will allow NHS Highland to confirm whether drones can be permanently integrated into its transport of emergency supplies and test samples, and could eventually be used throughout Scotland’s islands.

NHS expands delivery of medical supplies by drone from Scottish islands

The drones offer a huge advantage over the traditional road and ferry routes as the unmanned aircraft are much faster and travel more directly between an island’s GP surgery and an NHS lab, said Alex Brown, the head of operations for Skyports. He added that the drones can also travel more frequently as they are not dependent on tide times and ferry timetables.

“Transporting medical samples, you have to reduce the friction, whether that’s oceans, mountains or rivers, and you need an area where you can fly safely. That’s not the middle of London, but when you’re talking Orkney or Argyll and Bute, that ticks all the boxes,” Brown said.

The drone flights that took place this spring took around 15 minutes to cover the 12 miles between the district hospital in Oban and Mull’s community hospital in Craignure, much faster than it would have taken by road and ferry.

The German-built Wingcopter drones can transport payloads of up to 13 Lbs in a container that is mounted underneath the aircraft over a distance of 50 miles. The winter trials will indicate how well the drones can deal with typical Scottish winter weather.

“Looking at the weather data, we think we can fly 80% to 90% of the time, but there’s a difference between looking at numbers and being on-site and doing it properly,” Brown said. He added that health officials in the Western Isles and Orkney were also interested.

A spokesman for Argyll and Bute health and social care partnership, which includes NHS Highland, said the organization was glad to be involved. “The use of drones provides real opportunities to improve services and will help enable quicker diagnosis for our patients,” he said.

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