UK's first drone network for medical supplies delivery planned for Scotland

Key medical supplies such as blood and organs would be transported across Scotland by drone under plans announced today by Glasgow and Aberdeen airports’ owner AGS.

The firm will lead a consortium to develop and trial what it said would be the UK’s first national distribution network to use drones to transport essential medical supplies, including medicines.

This would link hospitals and GP surgeries with labs and distribution centres.

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The Caelus (Care & Equity – Healthcare Logistics UAS Scotland) project will trial drone flights.

The drones would deliver medical supplies across Scotland. Picture: AGS AirportsThe drones would deliver medical supplies across Scotland. Picture: AGS Airports
The drones would deliver medical supplies across Scotland. Picture: AGS Airports

It comprises 14 organisations including the University of Strathclyde, air traffic control firm NATS.

Funding will include £1.5 million from the UK Industrial Strategy Future Flight Challenge Fund to demonstrate the potential use of drones for medical supplies in rural Scotland.

Key aspects of the one-year project will be designing safe flight paths separate from other aircraft, along with the impact of drone noise.

Derek Provan, chief executive of AGS Airports, which also owns Southampton Airport, said: “This project has the potential to completely revolutionise the way in which healthcare services are delivered in Scotland.

"Not only does drone technology have the ability to speed-up the delivery of critical medical supplies, it could reduce waiting times for test results and, more importantly, help provide equity of care between urban and remote rural communities.

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Karen Bell, head of research and development – innovation lead for NHS Ayrshire and Arran, which will work with the consortium, said: “This is an opportunity to work with aviation colleagues to explore the innovative use of drone technology to address some of the potential challenges facing daily delivery of NHS services across the west of Scotland.”

Economy Secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “This innovative project will help position Scotland at the forefront of drone technologies to deliver essential healthcare supplies to people more quickly, especially those living remote locations.

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"It also demonstrates, once again, that when businesses, universities and public sector work together they can deliver for Scotland and outperform the competition, attracting welcome funding at this challenging time.”

Professor Sir Jim McDonald, Principal & Vice-Chancellor of the University of Strathclyde, said: “We look forward to demonstrating the potential value of drone delivery of medical supplies for the public, NHS, the economy, social equality and for the aviation manufacturing industry in Scotland.”

The news came hours after Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (Hial) announced a £3.7 million project to pioneer greener aviation in Orkney, including drones flying medical supplies to health centres.

Hial said the 18-month scheme would create the UK's first operationally-based, low-carbon aviation test centre at Kirkwall Airport.

It will include electric and hydrogen-powered aircraft being tested.

That follows Loganair announcing plans for electric trials in 2018 for Orkney, including on the 90-second trip between Westray and Papa Westray – the world’s shortest scheduled service.

The service to and from Craignure on the island operated up to 12 times a day, reducing delivery times from a minimum of two hours to 15 minutes.

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