UK embarks on world-first delivery of chemotherapy drugs by drone
In an effort to get chemotherapy treatment to patients in a more timely manner, the UK's National Health Service (NHS) is embarking on a new drone delivery trial for the Isle of Wight. Billed as the first of its kind, the trial is expected to demonstrate how hours can be cut from the delivery times of the vital drugs, and lessen the need for cancer sufferers to travel to the mainland for treatment.
Announced on Tuesday, the trials will see pharmacy staff at Portsmouth Hospitals University load up aircraft from technology company Apian, and send them on an autonomous journey to St Mary's Hospital on the Isle of Wight.
These all-electric drones can take off vertically and transition to horizontal flight, offering 1.5 hours of travel time per charge. Deploying them in this way will cut the delivery time for the chemotherapy drugs from four hours to just 30 minutes according to the NHS, and avoid the carbon emissions associated with the ferry and minimum two car journeys the process usually requires.
“Delivering chemo by drone is another extraordinary development for cancer patients and shows how the NHS will stop at nothing to ensure people get the treatment they need as promptly as possible – while also cutting costs and carbon emissions," said NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard.
The trials are billed as the first of their kind, and follow similar steps being taken by the UK's Royal Mail Service, which has been exploring the potential of drone delivery for the past couple of years. In May, the postal service company outlined plans to establish 50 routes within the next few years, following successful trials of its own.
The NHS's drones are expected to carry out their first flights in the coming weeks.