Drones could fly urgent medical supplies and lab samples between Lancaster and Cumbria hospitals

Drones could be used to fly testing samples and other medical items between hospitals in an attempt to reduce delivery times for urgent supplies.

Thursday, 1st July 2021, 3:45 pm

The move is being explored by officials at University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust.

An application has been submitted to the Civil Aviation Authority on behalf of the UHMBT to use unmanned drones between hospitals in Lancashire and Cumbria

The application states that the trust wants to use drones to provide expedited delivery services between Lancaster Royal Infirmary, Furness General and Westmorland General Hospitals.

Health officials are exploring options to use the small aircraft to speed up the transfer of urgent items
Health officials are exploring options to use the small aircraft to speed up the transfer of urgent items

Documents submitted under the plan said Electric Aviation Limited would be undertaking a 12-week trial to fly blood plasma, patient records and drugs between Royal Lancaster Infirmary, Westmorland General Hospital and Furness General Hospital.

The drones would fly over "coastal/tidal sands, with minimal overflight of urban population, roads, railway infrastructure to affect operations".

The application states: "The aim of these flights is to transfer pathology samples and medications between the hospitals in a more efficient manner, providing optimised healthcare to the Morecambe Bay population. With the relevant approvals in place, we plan to conduct Beyond Visual Line of Sight operations between the above-mentioned sites."

The application reveals the delivery flights will operate on a regular schedule and will allow the hospital trust to significantly reduce its carbon footprint.

It adds: "Providing a faster transfer service allows the three hospitals to operate more efficiently, in a cheaper manner and, most importantly moving forward, reduce the Trust's carbon footprint. Our initial calculations show that replacing one of the daily round-robin vans that move samples, records and medications between hospitals could save over 15 tonnes of Carbon annually. But Carbon savings are only one area we aim to improve. Optimising the pathology service will lead to immediate healthcare gains across the Bay community."

The hospital confirmed an application has been submitted, but is in its early stages.

Phil Woodford, Director of Corporate Affairs, UHMBT, said: "We are in the early stages of exploring a safer and more environmentally way to distribute small frequently transported urgent items between our hospitals.

"The utilisation of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) is one way in which we might do this. This is not a new initiative and is now operational in a small number of other NHS Trusts.

"We live and work in one of the most beautiful parts of the country and along with other initiatives we want to do all that we can to positively contribute to the environment."