Argyll and Bute islands

PPE and test kits to be delivered to Scottish islands by drone

Image credit: Dreamstime

A trial to deliver vital medical supplies such as PPE and coronavirus test kits via drone is being conducted on the remote Argyll and Bute islands off the west coast of Scotland.

Drone firm Skyports, which is carrying out the trial, hopes it will prove the feasibility of taking such an approach to more quickly deliver urgent supplies to remote medical facilities.

Based at Lorn and Islands Hospital in Oban, the trial will consist of two-way flights between the hospital and Mull and Iona Community Hospital in Craignure 16km away on the Isle of Mull.

As Covid-19 testing rapidly gathers pace in the UK, the proposed delivery service will help to ensure that isolated communities will continue to have access to tests.

Currently, the majority of medical supplies and specimens are transported between the laboratory at Lorn and Islands Hospital, surrounding general practitioners’ surgeries and other healthcare settings by sea and road, a long and complicated journey.

This service will see delivery times cut from up to 6 hours one-way by ground transport and ferry to around 15 minutes, on-demand, by drone, bringing considerable savings in terms of time and resources.

The trial has the backing of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), as well as NHS Scotland and the Department for Transport (DfT). 

The two-week trial represents a crucial milestone for unmanned aviation in the UK.  Under current rules, drones must always be flown within visual line of sight of the remote pilot. To undertake these more extended flights, the project team has been in close consultation with the CAA.

Alex Cresswell, CEO of Thales UK which is providing software to manage the drones, said: “This trial demonstrates the positive role that unmanned technology can play in our society and represents a landmark step to accelerate its adoption.”

Duncan Walker, CEO of Skyports, said: “Delivery drones are a fast and reliable solution for vital medical supplies. 

“Our trial in Argyll and Bute provides an important short-term response to the current pandemic and lays the foundations from which to grow a permanent drone delivery operation across a network of healthcare facilities around the country.”

Joanna Macdonald, Chief Officer for Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership, said: “I am delighted that Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership is again at the forefront in Scotland using new technologies to benefit our patients

“The use of drones provides real opportunities to improve services and will help enable quicker diagnosis for our patients.

Earlier this month a similar service was being trialled on the Isle of Wight in response to the Covid-19 outbreak. 

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