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The success of the UK’s first drone flights for medical samples and supplies has placed Argyll at the forefront of this life-saving technology amid proposals for a longer, larger-scale trial next year.
Argyll and Bute is the only NHS service to have had unmanned flights transporting clinical supplies and laboratory specimens and plans are under way to make the area the epicentre for future trials.
Speaking this week to the Argyllshire Advertiser, Stephen Whiston, Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership’s Head of Strategic Planning, Performance and Technology, said: ‘We are at the forefront of this in Scotland and the UK and are leading the way for health services throughout the country. The success of the trials that finished in May is really good news for Argyll and Bute.’
From February to May 2021 Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP) collaborated with drone designer and operators Skyports to conduct a drone delivery project to provide a fast, frequent and reliable clinical supplies transport service within Mid Argyll and Oban and the isle of Mull flying blood, Covid and other laboratory specimens between GP practices and hospitals.
The trials were conducted with Scottish and UK Government support and were funded by the European and UK space agencies. In total, the drones covered a distance of 14,000 kms over 422 flights, transporting 1,660 diagnostic specimens benefitting 884 patients and removing 11,640 hours from current arrangements.
The drones, which have a wingspan of 2.4 metres and a cargo capacity of 5kg, fly themselves following a pre-programmed flight path with on-board systems monitored by a pilot based at Lorn and Islands Hospital, Oban.
Stephen explained the draft reports of this trial are positive and funding applications have begun for a longer and more extensive trial in Argyll next year.
He said: ‘The lessons learned from our three-month project have proved invaluable in assessing the benefits of this technology to improving health care, but also identfiying areas for improvement and development to provide a resilient and cost effective service.
‘The HSCP is therefore working with Skyports for a final phase three project starting in 2022 which will have a longer timeframe providing a six-month drone delivery service potentially covering the west of Argyll including the islands.’
Stephen explained the drone flights improve the speed of access to medical results and therefore reduce delays in diagnosis and treatment.
As well as flying samples between Argyll and Bute’s own medical centres, the drones can fly specimens to labs in Glasgow for more specialist tests.
‘We are delighted with the support from the community, particularly through the pandemic,’ Stephen added. ‘We’ve had lots of engagement on social media and we’ve also been encouraged by the staff’s enthusiasm to get onboard with a project that deals with the challenges of rural areas.’
More medical supply drones are planned for Argyll. no_a33drones01