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Projects using drones to deliver medicines receive investment

Projects using drones to deliver medicines receive investment
By Beth Gault
19 April 2024

Five projects that use drones to deliver medicines and medical supplies have been given £500,000 between them as part of a development programme co-funded by the government.

The programme, called the UKRI Future Flight Challenge, is a £300m project to support the creation of an ‘aviation ecosystem’ to help accelerate the introduction of drones and other aircraft in the UK. It is part funded by the government, and part by industry, including Innovate UK and the Economic and Social Research Council.

Half a million pounds of this funding has been granted to five health sector projects to help ‘future proof’ NHS medical supply chains and better connect patients with healthcare services, through the use of drones. 

The five projects are:

  • VPS: a versatile package provenance system which enables real time monitoring of healthcare packages between NHS trusts, couriers, drones and vans.
  • Pioneering radiopharmaceutical drone delivery: this project helps to deliver big, critical goods over long distances more safely and is delivered in partnership with University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust.
  • The Welsh NHS medical drone delivery network: a project focused on delivering savings using autonomous drones embedded into the wider health network.
  • Dr-UBER: a drone network for medical emergency delivery in Essex. This project looks to apply the ‘ride-hailing’ concept to connect medical institutions such as hospitals, pharmacies, GPs and medical laboratories.
  • Drones in pathology networks: looking at how to simplify the use of drones to support the movement of pathology between NHS facilities. This project is working alongside the Kent and Medway pathology network.

Health minister, Andrew Stephenson, said: ‘Technology has huge potential to transform the NHS for patients, but it can also help automate processes behind the scenes too.

‘These projects will help future-proof our medical supply chains by using drones to deliver medical products, reducing the chances of supply disruption while saving costs, energy and resources.

 ‘If successful, they could be rolled out across the NHS to boost resilience and help people live more independent lives, building on the government’s long-term ambitions.’

Future Flight Challenge deputy director, Simon Masters, added: ‘The Future Flight Challenge is committed to leading a revolution in aviation, delivering technology solutions with economic and societal benefits. This partnership between the drone industry and the medical sector highlights the value that drones can bring to our front-line public services. We are excited to be working with these new projects and exploring how new types of vehicles can be applied to NHS supply chain challenges.’

Last month, the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt pledged to invest an additional £3.4bn in technology over the next parliament, in order to help replace IT systems and improve patient care.

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