A consortium led by AGS Airports in partnership with NHS Scotland is launching what will be the UK’s first medical distribution network using drones.
The drone network will transport essential medicines, bloods and other medical supplies throughout Scotland including to remote communities.
The £10.1 million (US$11.6) CAELUS (Care and Equity – Healthcare Logistics UAS Scotland) network was recently officially launched at Glasgow Airport.
Launch in January 2020, the CAELUS consortium has already designed drone landing stations for NHS sites across Scotland and developed a digital twin of the proposed delivery network which connects hospitals, pathology laboratories, distribution centres and GP surgeries across Scotland.
CAELUS brings together 16 partners including the University of Strathclyde, NATS, NHS Scotland, Skyports and AGS Airports.
Fiona Smith, AGS Airports Group head of Aerodrome Strategy and CAELUS project director said, “The CAELUS project is set to revolutionize the way in which healthcare services are delivered in Scotland. A drones network can ensure critical medical supplies can be delivered more efficiently, it can reduce waiting times for test results and, more importantly, it can provide equity of care between urban and remote rural communities.
“As well as being able to undertake live flights we can begin to deploy the physical infrastructure needed to support the drones across Scotland. This will involve building prototype landing bases as well as digital and communication infrastructure. We will also work with local communities to ensure they understand why and how the drones will be used.”
Live flight trials will be operated by CAELUS consortium member Skyports. The UK-based drone services provider is an experienced operator of medical and dangerous goods cargo flights. The company was instrumental to early trial flights with NHS Scotland in 2020 and 2021, flying over 14,000km in the region to date.
NHS Grampian’s program lead for innovation, Hazel Dempsey said, “Our aim, from an NHS perspective, is to test the use of drone technology in urban, remote, rural and island landscapes. We want to test if using drones to will improve important aspects of our logistics service, for example, to test the transportation of laboratory samples, blood products, chemotherapy, and medicine delivery. Ultimately, we want to explore if drone technology can speed up diagnosis and treatment of medical problems.
“This has the potential to improve services for those whose care is dependent on rail, ferry or airline timetables and help keep people at home where they can be supported by families and loved ones.
“This project intends to position the United Kingdom and NHS Scotland as a leader in the third revolution in the aviation industry.”
Alex Brown, director of Skyports drone services said, “Over the last four years, we’ve launched projects throughout Scotland which demonstrate the benefits that drone interventions can provide to individuals and communities – even in the hardest to reach areas.
“Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, we flew thousands of kilometers to deliver critical pathology samples for the NHS, helping countless patients receive their diagnoses and treatments faster. The CAELUS project is the next step in these critical trials to demonstrate the feasibility of drone services and pave the way for the launch of permanent drone delivery operations for the NHS.”