Drones are delivering essential Covid-19 tests and medical supplies between hospitals in Scotland in a UK first.
Following a trial phase last year, the miniature aircraft are taking medicines and other materials between sites in Argyll and Bute.
The delivery drones, operated by Skyports, will carry up to 3kg of critical medical supplies up to 40 miles, including Covid-19 and other test samples, medicine, essential personal protective equipment (PPE) and Covid-19 testing kits.
In a UK first, Skyports has become the first operator to receive permission by the UK Civil Aviation Authority to carry diagnostic specimens by drone.
Duncan Walker, chief executive officer at Skyports, said: “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.
“This project underscores the viability of drone technology as a practical way to move goods.”
The drones make it easier to access hard-to-reach areas meaning getting the important coronavirus tests and samples to and from remote locations is faster.
In some areas of Argyll and Bute, a delivery can take up to 36 hours by road and ferry, said Skyports, whereas a drone can complete the journey in 15 minutes.
Initially, the delivery service will operate between Lorn and Islands Hospital in Oban, Mid-Argyll Community Hospital in Lochgilphead, Easdale Medical Practice in Clachan Seil and the Mull and Iona Community Hospital in Craignure.
NHS staff will be able to place orders online on both a scheduled and on-demand service, with the drones controlled from Skyports’ operations centre in Oban flying automatically on set routes.
Stephen Whiston, head of strategic planning for Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP), said: “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.
“This three-month 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.”
The project has been funded by a joint initiative between the UK Space Agency and European Space Agency Space Solutions to utilise space-enabled technology and services that can support the NHS.
This project follows a successful proof-of-concept trial conducted by Argyll and Bute HSCP in 2020 between Lorn and Islands Hospital and Mull and Iona Community Hospital.