Drones could deliver life-saving blood samples to Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth after bid from Solent Transport

DRONES could start delivering life-saving blood samples and chemotherapy kits to the city’s hospital thanks to a groundbreaking new proposal.

Monday, 6th January 2020, 5:39 pm
Updated Monday, 6th January 2020, 7:57 pm

Solent Transport, a partnership of four councils including Portsmouth City Council, has launched a bid to carry out the first UK trials using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to transport vital medical equipment between Queen Alexandra Hospital in Cosham as well as Southampton General Hospital and the Isle of Wight's St Mary's Hospital.

The Department of Transport has received a bid for the plans following research by innovation foundation Nesta Challenges which showed that traffic congestion and long journey times are causing unnecessary delays to the NHS as well as emergency services.

In a statement, Solent Transport said: ‘Our proposed live trials would use equivalent dummy payloads to replicate pathology and treatment kit shipments moving between the various consignors and consignees.

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A demo showing how drones can be key in blood delivery

‘Subject to ethical approval, trials of live samples would be undertaken.’

‘This project identified that congestion and long journey times by road and ferry [between the three hospitals] resulted in high delivery costs and inefficiencies to the NHS which could be significantly reduced if certain products were distributed by UAV.’

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Solent Transport says it hopes to eventually use drones to transport time-critical medicines and treatments.

Nesta Challenges carried out research in Southampton for the use of drones by hospitals which led to the funding bid.

Rick Allen, operations manager for Southampton General Hospital's laboratories, said: ‘As soon as blood is taken from a patient’s vein, the clock is ticking. We have four hours to get it from the vein to us and then we’ve got a couple of hours to process that sample.

‘If we can be assured of getting samples to us quicker, then we can be that much more assured that the results are accurate and the correct result for that patient.’

Drones are already being used to deliver blood in developing parts of the world, such as Rwanda and Ghana, but the congested nature of Britain's airspace make it more difficult.

Tris Dyson, executive director of Nesta Challenges, said: ‘Drones delivering public services in cities could be part of our reality in the near future, bringing major benefits for the public sector.

‘This is a great opportunity but cities and the public they represent will be critical in enabling the development of these urban drone services. If we can integrate technology, regulation, city leadership, public services and public engagement, we will help position the UK as a global leader in developing urban drone services and will unlock the significant economic opportunity for our future.’

Nesta believes the use of drones to support delivery of public services could increase GDP by £6.9bn.

Solent Transport is made up Southampton City Council, Portsmouth City Council, Isle of Wight Council, and Hampshire County Council.