Blood samples flown for hospital testing by drone in Scottish first

Drones are set to transport blood samples from a GP surgery to a hospital lab in a Scottish first that is designed to speed up testing and results for patients.

The samples will be flown from a surgery in Montrose via Stracathro Hospital and then onto the lab at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee in a trial run by Scotland’s first drone port, which is being established in Montrose.

The drones will collect samples four or five times a day with up 40 vials transported in every trip, which is made at the equivalent of around 60mph at 400ft above the ground. At present, they are transported by van or taxi once a day, or twice at most.

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Alastair Skitmore, flight operations manager at Skyports, said the drone used in the NHS trials had precision movement that allowed the machine to enter small spaces, such as a GP surgery car park.

He said the samples would be sealed in regulation packaging before being stored on the drone for take-off.

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"This allows us to provide an on-demand delivery service to the NHS, reducing reliance on taxi delivery,” he said.

"It’s eco-friendly and its fast. It’s very safe. We have done 25,000km of these flights with a 100 per cent safety record. I think after a two-month trial, the data will speak for itself in terms of time and cost savings to the NHS.”

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Dr Ellie Dow, consultant in biochemical medicine and diagnostics at Ninewells Hospital, said the “very exciting” development would quicken delivery times to labs. Drops, at present, are usually made once – or twice a day at most – by van or taxi.

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Dr Dow, speaking at a test flight at Stracathro Hospital, said: "If you have samples coming by van, it has an itinerary that goes around a huge loop to collect samples from practices. If we have this technology, we can organise later pick-ups in the day, patients can be bled at a time that is perhaps more convenient to them and we can still get samples to the lab on time.”

Dr Dow said the drone technology could ultimately lead to patients giving a sample, getting their result reviewed and having their medicines dispatched by drone all on the same day.

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A drone which will transport medical samples to Ninewells Hospital in Dundee takes off at Stracathro Hospital in Angus. PIC: Contributed.

The drones will be flown out of Mercury Drone Port, Scotland’s first drone port, based in Montrose.

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Richard Stark, director of DTLX, a partner in the drone port, along with Angus Council and drone company Skyports, said the aim was to create a ‘Silverstone for drones’ where technology and operations could be tested in a safe environment.

Mr Stark said: "What we are going to do is build an area where you can test and trial drone technology. The technology exists, but it hasn’t been used in commercial applications. As the industry evolves over the next three to four years, an awful lot of stuff is going to be tested, as well as operational procedures.”

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Mr Stark said he hoped to attract companies such as Amazon and Google Wing to Montrose to test their operations at the new drone port.

Dr Ellie Dow, consultant in biochemical medicine and diagnostics at Ninewells Hospital, said the drone trial was 'very exciting' and had potential to speed up testing and results for patients. PIC: Contributed.
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The drone port is based within the ZeroFour Hub, a partnership between Angus Council and Crown Estate Scotland, which has planning permission in principle for a mixed-use business park in the coastal town.

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