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Skyports in partnership with UK’s NHS launch first Covid-19 test drone delivery service in Scotland

By Chris Stonor

Skyports in partnership with the UK’s NHS has launched the first Covid-19 test drone delivery service in Scotland, reports a company press release.

Argyll & Bute Health & Social Care Partnership (HSCP) has begun carrying Covid test samples and other medical materials on Skyports drones between medical facilities in the Argyll & Bute region. Following successful trials last year, this three-month initiative, which aims to help improve Covid-19 related logistics to and from remote locations, has now been expanded and is fully operational.

The Skyports craft will carry up to 3kg of critical medical supplies as far as 40 miles distance. The cargo will include Covid-19 and other test samples, medicine, essential personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing kits. Skyports has become the first drone operator to receive permission by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to carry diagnostic specimens by drone.

Stephen Whiston

Stephen Whiston, Head of Strategic Planning for Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership, says, “This three-month project will provide critical evidence on the real benefits this technology can bring to the NHS not only in Argyll and Bute but across Scotland.”

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

Such access can significantly increase the speed of transport and reduce times in some areas of the Argyll & Bute region from up to 36 hours for a road and ferry journey to 15 mins, while also increasing the frequency of pick- ups.

Duncan Walker, CEO of Skyports, comments,“This initiative is a natural progression from our recent trials with the NHS in Scotland.This latest experience will put us another step closer to permanent operations from which we hope more NHS facilities could soon benefit.”

Both a scheduled and on-demand service will be run, with orders able to be placed by NHS staff through an online system developed by digital consultants Deloitte.

The drones are to be controlled from the Skyports Operations Centre in Oban and fly automatically along predefined routes. Communication between the craft and the ground control station will be provided by Vodafone’s 4G network and satellite communications to ensure connectivity coverage is provided at all times.

The project is funded by a joint initiative between the UK Space Agency (UKSA) and European Space Agency (ESA) Space Solutions to utilise space-enabled technology and services that can support the NHS.

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