in Aerospace / Defence

Drones set to fly urgent medicines to Isle of Wight

Posted 10 December 2021 · Add Comment

Cancer sufferers on the Isle of Wight look set to benefit from a collaboration between the British Army, NHS, Apian Ltd and Skylift UAV.

Above: The NHS drones are based and operated from the British Army’s Baker Barracks on Thorney Island.
Courtesy British Army

Up until now medical services at the Island’s St Mary’s Hospital could have expected to wait up to four to five hours to receive urgent medicines, chemotherapy and drugs. Transporting these vital supplies meant a laborious taxi journey from Portsmouth’s Queen Alexandra Hospital to the city’s ferry terminal and then a crossing over to the island and yet another taxi ride to the waiting hospital staff. A costly time-consuming journey often open to the vagaries of weather, ferry delays and cancellations.

The advances in UAV technology, unmanned aerial vehicle or drones as they are more commonly referred to, means that the Isle of Wight could soon become the latest UK region to have its own drone drug delivery service.

Apian Ltd., a healthcare company that marries the health services with the drone industry and drone operating company Skylift UAV, are nearing the end of what has so far proven to be a successful three-month trial period.

Using an 85kg drone with a five metre wingspan, a payload weighing 20kg has been transported the 47 kilometres round trip from the Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth to St Mary’s Hospital near Newport on the Isle of Wight. The drone trials have proven the efficiency of delivery by air, slashing the time it takes to a mere 30 minutes.

“Moving items by drone across the Solent will help speed up the delivery of critical supplies from hospitals on the mainland to the Isle of Wight and will ensure our patients receive prescribed chemotherapy drugs efficiently.”

Although transiting from one hospital back and forth to the other, the drones are based and operated from the British Army’s Baker Barracks on Thorney Island. A safe and secure location away from the general public was required both to conduct flight operations from, and to hangar (store) the drones overnight.

The former airfield, now home to the British Army’s 7 Air Defence Group and its subordinate 12 and 16 Regiments Royal Artillery, proved the ideal location to be based and the group was delighted to be able to support the project. Being based at Baker Barracks came with a certain twist of irony: the two air defence regiments there are trained to shoot down aircraft, missiles and yes – drones.

There is still more research work to be completed on the project; scientists from Southampton and London’s King’s College Universities are studying the impact of drone flight, vibration temperature fluctuation and other factors on redundant chemotherapy ahead of the NHS approving the transport of live medicines.

Chemotherapy, once it has been created, in this case at the Queen Alexandra Hospital’s Pharmacy Manufacturing Unit, has a very limited shelf life. Typically, once it is made it needs to be in the patient within four hours. To cut the delivery time from four hours to 30 minutes means patients will no longer need to make the tiring and sometimes distressing journey to the mainland for their treatment.

Praising the Army, Alexander Trewby, CEO of Apian Ltd. said: “It is because of the generosity shown by the Army that has brought this project so far. To be able to have a permanent base from which to operate from in such an ideal location has really paid huge dividends.”

The drones themselves have a vertical take-off and land capability yet convert to forward propulsion once they have attained their required altitude. Being electric they are far less audible; a significant consideration given they will be flying around hospitals. Their 20-kilogramme payload is sufficient to transport batches of chemotherapy in their watertight and insulated protective medical carriers.  

When up and running these drones will save the NHS money, time and resources but perhaps more poignantly they will also save distress, pain and suffering for those patients on the Isle of Wight battling against cancer.     




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