NHS launches latest trial of drone delivery, with vertical take-off and landing drone from start-up Apian carrying chemotherapy materials to Isle of Wight
The latest effort follows previous trials on the Isle of Wight in 2020 and 2021 using a drone designed at the University of Southampton to deliver medicines and protective equipment.
The NHS carried out a three-month trial with Apian from September to November of last year and hopes to use the firm’s electric vertical take-off and landing drones to carry materials from the pharmacy at Portsmouth Hospitals University NHS Trust to St Mary’s Hospital on the island, where staff will collect and distribute them.
Short shelf life
If successful the trial could make the trust the first in the world to delivery chemotherapy by drone.
Drones would cut delivery time from four hours to 30 minutes, with each drone flight replacing at least two car journeys and one hovercraft or ferry journey per delivery.
Chemotherapy materials are difficult to transport as they have a short shelf life, NHS officials said, making them a good fit with drone technology.
The system would be far more convenient for cancer patients, who at the moment often need to travel to the mainland for treatment.
The drones weigh 85kg, have a wingspan of 5 metres and can carry up to 20kg.
NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard called the trial “another extraordinary development” for cancer patients.
Health and Social Care secretary Sajid Javid said the use of drones would mean patients have “quicker, fairer access to treatment no matter where they live”.
Apian chief executive Alexander Trewby said the company, founded in April 2020, wants to construct “a network of drone corridors connecting hospitals, pathology labs, GP surgeries, care homes and pharmacies up and down the country”.
The trial is a joint effort of the Isle of Wight NHS Trust, Portsmouth Hospitals University NHS Trust, Solent Transport, University of Southampton, King’s College London, Skylift, Modini, the Ministry of Defence, UKRI and Apian.