Test delivery drones are now being used in Argyll and Bute to transport Covid-19 test samples and other medical materials between facilities.

The drones can carry upto 3kg of medical supplies a maximum of 40 miles - and their cargo will include Covid-19 test kits and samples, medicine, and essential PPE.

Head of strategic planning for Argyll and Bute HSCP, Stephen Whiston, said: "We are delighted to once again be at the forefront of using this innovative technology, to assess how unmanned drones can enhance our logistics operations and improve services for patients and clinicians in some of our most remote and island communities.”

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The drone delivery service will initially operate between Lorn and Islands Hospital in Oban, Mid-Argyll Community Hospital in Lochgilphead, Easdale Medical Practice in Clachan Seil and the Mull & Iona Community Hospital in Craignure.

It is expected to improve access to hard-to-reach areas, transform the speed of transport – reducing some journey times from 36 hours to 15 minutes, and increase the frequency of pick-ups.

It will operate as both a scheduled service and an on-demand service, with NHS staff able to place orders through an online system.

This follows a successful trail conducted between Lorn and Islands Hospital and Mull of Iona Community Hospital last year.

This is the first ever operation to receive permission by the UK Civil Aviation Authority to transport diagnostic specimens by drone.

The project will be managed by drone operator Skyports.  

Chief executive officer at Skyports, Duncan Walker, said: “Using drone deliveries within supply chains can create significant time and cost savings.

“This initiative is a natural progression from our recent trials with the NHS in Scotland as we scale our operations, supporting a wider network of hospitals and medical practices as they continue to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The experience from this important initiative will put us another step closer to permanent operations from which we hope more NHS facilities could soon benefit.

“This project underscores the viability of drone technology as a practical way to move goods.”

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The drones will be controlled from the Skyports Operation Centre in Oban and will fly automatically along predefined routes.

Both Vodafone’s 4G network and satellite communications will ensure constant connectivity between the drones and the ground control station.

The UK Space Agency and the European Space Agency Space Solutions have jointly funded the initiative, to support the NHS through space-enabled technology and services.

Mr Whiston concluded: “This three-month project working with Skyports will provide critical evidence on the real benefits this technology can bring to the NHS not only in Argyll and Bute but across Scotland."