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NHS trials using drones to deliver chemotherapy drugs

Autonomous drone technology is set to revolutionise the way life-saving drugs are delivered by the UK’s National Health Service (NHS).

The Isle of Wight NHS Trust has partnered with Apian, a medical drone technology start-up on a mission to improve patients’ health outcomes. The world first trial of the innovative drone courier service took place earlier this week when it made a trial flight to the island in preparation to deliver vital chemotherapy drugs.

The trial cut a four-hour delivery time down to just under 30 minutes saving on fuel and money. This 90 % time efficiency removes the need for reliance on conventional modes of transport and is kinder to the environment, helping the Trust in its multiyear plan to become the world’s first carbon net zero national health system.

The plan is to eventually fly directly from the Pharmacy Manufacturing Unit at Portsmouth Hospitals University NHS Trust to St. Mary’s Hospital in the Isle of Wight (IOW).

“Extremely innovative leading technology”

Harry Howe, who was part of the healthcare integration team for the Isle of Wight (IOW) project and IT project manager at Oxford Pharmacy Store, has been involved since the concept began.

Harry said: “First we had to consider whether the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority (MHRA) would deem it acceptable to deliver medication using the technology. There was a lot of work involved with providing evidence and research with Southampton University and Kings College London to ensure that the NHS were happy with trialing this extremely innovative technology.”

He added: “The project has been taken on very enthusiastically by those at the Trust, and the island.

“Now we can start to explore other areas that could benefit from this delivery service. This all ties in with the NHS Long Term Plan and the pace of change across the health service as it supports its staff to make the most of life-changing advances to improve patients’ lives.”

The island’s NHS Trust CEO Darren Cattell added: “The Island has a long history of innovation. We are excited to continue that tradition by utilising the latest technology to overcome the challenges we face and to provide the very best service to our patients.

“We are still at a relatively early stage. However, the use of drones to transport medical supplies is a concept that has radical and positive implications for both the NHS and for patients across the UK as well as the Isle of Wight. It is great to be part of this innovative project.”

The trial has proven that using innovative technology is feasible, so what does this mean for the future?

The technology will:

    • Provide a new way of getting treatment to patients.
    • Cut delivery time and reduce time wastage.
    • Reduce carbon emissions and contribute to improving air quality for patients and the community.

A remarkable achievement in the 74th year of the founding of the NHS.

For more information about the project, please contact Harry Howe at Henry.Howe@oxfordhealth.nhs.uk

Picture credits: Apian  and Annalisa Russell-Smith.

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