Drones to be used to deliver medical supplies

Pilotless technology could improve delivery times and reduce NHS's carbon footprint

NHS hospitals could soon be sending and receiving medical supplies by drone as part of efforts to enhance the supply chain, improve delivery times, and reduce the environmental impact of procurement processes.

There is a lot of work going on across national agencies and commercial companies to clear the way for organisations to identify and invest in enterprise applications of drone technology

The vision of a ‘drone delivery network’ which would ferry pathology samples, blood products and medical equipment between healthcare facilities across London was analysed as part of Nesta’s Flying High project which assessed the impact of the technology across five UK regions.

The charity, which promotes technological innovation, modelled delivery flights between Guy's and St Thomas' hospitals in order to assess the feasibility of its proposal.

Other case studies included utilising the pilotless technology to assist the emergency services in the West Midlands, enhance the fire service in Bradford, support regeneration work in Preston, and supply NHS hospitals around the Solent.

Flying High cites PwC research suggesting the benefits of drone technology could amount to a £42billion boost to Britain’s economy by 2030.

And the charity is now calling on the Government, private enterprise and public services to co-operate on delivering its recommendations.

These include pressure to update regulations to reflect advances in drone technology, particularly around the management of urban airspace. And it calls for advises further investment in infrastructure to support drones.

Commenting on the issue, Aviation Minister, Liz Sugg, said the Government was already taking steps to implement its proposals.

She added: “The Flying High project is a fantastic example of how much drones can help us in our daily lives.

“Drones have the potential to bring great social and economic benefits to the country and we want the UK to be a global leader in drone services.

“We have begun introducing a world-class legal framework to ensure this exciting technology is used safely and responsibly to help the industry thrive.”

Drones have the potential to bring great social and economic benefits to the country and we want the UK to be a global leader in drone services

The news has also been welcomed by technology firms. Anne Sheehan, enterprise director at Vodafone UK, said: “There is a lot of work going on across national agencies and commercial companies to clear the way for organisations to identify and invest in enterprise applications of drone technology.

“At Vodafone we are trialling IoT drone tracking and safety technology to thwart drone incursions at sensitive locations such as airports, prisons and hospitals.

“We believe that key to the transition from being a consumer toy to a commercially-viable transportation system is a step-change in accuracy.

“For drones, the missing link between entertainment and enterprise is 5G, which not only offers an incremental increase in download speeds, it also promises a drastic reduction in time lag, or latency – the intermittent delays that interrupt mobile signals.

“It is this that will unlock the potential of drones in areas such as healthcare.

“Losing an organ on its way to the hospital is a matter of life and death. When you’ve got such precious cargo on board there is no margin for error.”

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