By Peter McLaren-Kennedy • 17 February 2023 • 12:51
NHS Drone - Image Northumbria Healthcare NHS Trust
The Trust said that its pilot project is being carried out between the Wansbeck General Hospital, in Ashington, Alnwick Infirmary and Berwick Infirmary and is intended to increase efficiencies and reduce carbon emissions.
According to the Independent newspaper on Friday, February 17, the trial using electric drones will last four months with an initial six flights per day. If successful the number of flights will be increased to 15 a day.
Key to the trial is patient experience, the freeing up of staff and the impact on the environment according to Sir James Mackey, Chief Executive of Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust.
He said: “As an innovative and forward-looking organisation, we are always interested to explore initiatives which may be able to improve how we deliver care to our communities.
“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, while we are 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.
“We are committed to providing as much care as we can in our outlying communities, so logistical routes to Alnwick and Berwick are a key focus.”
Approval for the pilot, which is being run in partnership with Apian, was given by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to commence from Monday.
With the area largely rural the Trust is believed to be the ideal location for the trial. Each drone is said to be capable of travelling at 110km/h (70mph) and carrying a 3kg payload.
Apian co-founder and Medical Director, Dr Christopher Law, said: “This trial builds on Apian’s work in the Solent where we flew the world’s first chemotherapy and delivered the UK’s first prescription medicine by drone.
“While there’s still much work to be done before UAVs can operate autonomously in non segregated airspace, there’s an equal and opposite amount of evidence for Apian to collect for how on-demand delivery can impact healthcare just as it has our personal lives.”
A Northumbria Healthcare spokesperson added: “This trial is a critical step towards the greater uptake and use of UAVs to support the NHS to build capability into existing, pressured supply chains.
“Apian, and not the NHS, is funding the trial. In doing so, there is the opportunity to assess and test the hypothesis that UAVs can deliver critical medical items as efficiently as the internet moves information.
“This will help reduce costs to the NHS and taxpayer through automation, respond to the climate emergency, create new local employment opportunities, and, crucially, allow for better patient care.”
The use of drones by the NHS, which is short of resources, to deliver medication, blood samples and chemotherapy cocktails will be closely watched by others desperate to bring about efficiencies between sites.
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Originally from South Africa, Peter is based on the Costa Blanca and is a web reporter for the Euro Weekly News covering international and Spanish national news.
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