A drone delivery service ferrying Covid test samples and other medical materials for the NHS has officially launched in Argyll & Bute.
The drones, operated by air mobility service Skyports, will carry up to 3kg of critical medical supplies up to 40 miles at a time.
Cargo set to be ferried by the service will include Covid-19 test samples, medicine and essential PPE, according to the Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP).
Initially, the drone delivery service will operate between Lorn & Islands Hospital in Oban, Mid-Argyll Community Hospital in Lochgilphead, Easdale Medical Practice and the Mull & Iona Community Hospital in Craignure.
The project follows a successful proof-of-concept trial conducted in 2020 between Lorn & Islands Hospital and Mull & Iona Community Hospital.
Stephen Whiston, head of strategic planning for HSCP, said the service will greatly enhance support for remote communities on Scotland’s west coast.
“Argyll and Bute HSCP is delighted to once again be at the forefront of using this innovative technology to assess how unmanned drones can enhance our logistics operations and improve services for patients and clinicians in some of our most remote and island communities,” he said.
“This three-months project working with Skyports will provide critical evidence on the real benefits this technology can bring to the NHS, not only in Argyll and Bute, but across Scotland,” Whiston added.
Scheduled and on-demand services will be run as part of the initiative, with orders placed by NHS staff through an online system developed by digital consultants, Deloitte.
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Project leaders insist that delivery drones will improve access to hard-to-reach areas and increase delivery times significantly. Deliveries by road and ferry can take hours at a time.
However, drone delivery services could cut this journey to just 15 minutes and increase the frequency of pick-ups.
Skyports Chief Executive Duncan Walker said that, long-term, the project will deliver “significant time and cost savings” and intends to expand to support a broader range of NHS services.
“This initiative is a natural progression from our recent trials with the NHS in Scotland as we scale our operations, supporting a wider network of hospitals and medical practices as they continue to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic,” he commented.
“The experience from this important initiative will put us another step closer to permanent operations from which we hope more NHS facilities could soon benefit.”
As part of the initiative, Skyports will use the Swoop Aero drone-powered logistics platform. The vehicles will be controlled from the Skyports Operations Centre in Oban and fly automatically along predefined routes.