- Partnership of four councils has launched bid to carry out the first UK trials
- Unmanned aerial vehicles would be used to transport vital medical equipment
- Drones could be used at serious incidents involving police and fire services
The NHS could start delivering life-saving blood samples and chemotherapy kits using drones, under groundbreaking new proposals.
A partnership of four councils has launched a bid to carry out the first UK trials using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to transport vital medical equipment between hospitals and GP surgeries.
Taking to the skies to deliver the kits would dramatically transform the way emergency services operate – with it also hoped drones could be used at serious incidents involving police and fire services.
The Department of Transport has received a bid from Solent Transport – which is made up of four south coast authorities – to use drones for carrying blood and chemotherapy kits.
Solent Transport’s bid follows research by innovation foundation Nesta which showed using this technology would save the UK public sector £1.1 billion and boost the economy by almost £7 billion.
Nesta’s study of five UK cities found traffic congestion and long journey times are causing unnecessary delays to the NHS as well as emergency services.
In a statement, Solent Transport said: ‘Our proposed live trials would use equivalent dummy payloads to replicate pathology and treatment kit shipments moving between the various consignors and consignees.
‘Subject to ethical approval, trials of live samples would be undertaken.’
Drones would be flown nearly 15 miles between three Hampshire hospitals under the proposals; Southampton General Hospital [SGH], Portsmouth’s QA Hospital and the Isle of Wight’s St Mary’s Hospital.
‘[On the Isle of Wight] patients currently have to travel to SGH for chemotherapy treatment on a regular basis.
‘The concept would involve the transport of specialised kits by drone from SGH to recognised locations where they would be taken to the patient’s home and administered by local medical staff.’
Solent Transport says it hopes to eventually use drones to transport time-critical medicines and treatments.
Rick Allen, operations manager for SGH’s laboratories, said: ‘As soon as blood is taken from a patient’s vein, the clock is ticking. We have four hours to get it from the vein to us and then we’ve got a couple of hours to process that sample.
‘If we can be assured of getting samples to us quicker, then we can be that much more assured that the results are accurate and the correct result for that patient. Drones are already being used to deliver blood in developing parts of the world, such as Rwanda and Ghana, but the congested nature of Britain’s airspace make it more difficult.’
Hollie Jamieson, head of future cities at Nesta, said: ‘Our research showed that people did have concerns, the obvious concerns: privacy, security. Despite those concerns, the public are interested and accepting of drones when they are being used for publicly beneficial uses.’
The areas Nesta conducted its research were Bradford, London, Preston, Southampton and the West Midlands. In London and Southampton Nesta looked at the use of drones by hospitals, leading to the latest bid for funding by Solent Transport.
In Bradford, the trial looked at the possibility of its fire service launching drones from a fire station, flying ahead to the scene and beaming images back. These could then be used to dispatch the right number of crews and equipment, avoid false alarms, and save valuable time.
In the West Midlands the trial examined how drones could help police and ambulance services respond to road traffic collisions.
Nesta said using these potential innovations could reduce costs by £1.1bn in the public sector in urban areas by 2035 and the use of drones to support delivery of public services could increase GDP by £6.9bn.
Tris Dyson, Executive Director of Nesta, said: ‘Drones delivering public services in cities could be part of our reality in the near future, bringing major benefits for the public sector.’
Solent Transport is made up Southampton City Council, Portsmouth City Council, Isle of Wight Council, and Hampshire County Council.