Drone flights carrying medical supplies to start

An NHS trust is to use drones as a way of transporting clinical supplies between hospitals at up to 70mph.

The drone will be used to carry blood samples, chemotherapy drugs, equipment and mail between Northumberland hospitals for the next four months.

Initially there will be six flights per day, increasing to about 15 in May.

Northumbria Healthcare said it would “reduce delivery times, make efficiencies and cut carbon emissions” due to the geography of the county.

The trial was announced seven months ago alongside a pilot project in Hampshire but is only starting now.

The uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) can carry up to 3kg of medical supplies from Wansbeck General Hospital in Ashington up to Alnwick Infirmary and on to Berwick Infirmary.

Chemotherapy medication will be ferried to Alnwick and then on to Berwick Infirmary while return flights from Alnwick and Berwick will deliver pathology samples to Wansbeck.

A trained pilot will monitor the flight of the drone along the route.

‘A better, smarter way’

Apian, the company which is funding the trial, said there was no risk of packages being dropped as they will be stored in the hold in a “robust safety case”.

Sir James Mackey, chief executive of Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, said: “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.”

He said they were also “always mindful of our need to drive efficiencies and reduce our impact on the environment”.

“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,” he added.

The trial runs until 12 May and will gather data from staff and patients, and also measure the environmental impact.

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