DRONE trials are to start from today (Monday, February 13) in an innovative partnership project by Northumbria Healthcare and a medical drone logistics company.

Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust is partnering with Apian to explore the use of Uncrewed Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to transport chemotherapy drugs, blood samples and other items.

Following a UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) approval process, test flights will take place until Friday, May 12.

Given Northumbria Healthcare’s predominantly rural patch across Northumberland and North Tyneside, using drones could reduce delivery times, make efficiencies and cut carbon emissions.

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The trial will collect logistical data and assess impacts on patient experience, staff resources and environmental benefits.

Sir James Mackey, chief executive of Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, said: “As an innovative and forward-looking organisation, we are always interested to explore initiatives which may be able to improve how we deliver care to our communities.

“With the area we cover and the number of hospitals and other sites we manage, having effective logistics to get supplies where they need to be is vital, while we are always mindful of our need to drive efficiencies and reduce our impact on the environment.

“Using drones has the potential to help us deliver important drugs and supplies in a better, smarter way, so we are looking forward to seeing how the test flights go. We are committed to providing as much care as we can in our outlying communities, so logistical routes to Alnwick and Berwick are a key focus."

The project will use fully electric aircraft. The UAVs, which are managed by Skyports Drone Services, can carry up to 3kg of payload and have a maximum speed of almost 70mph.

Apian co-founder and medical director, Dr Christopher Law, said: “This trial builds on Apian’s work in the Solent where we flew the world’s first chemotherapy and delivered the UK's first prescription medicine by drone.

“While there’s still much work to be done before UAVs can operate autonomously in non-segregated airspace, there’s an equal and opposite amount of evidence for Apian to collect for how on-demand delivery can impact healthcare just as it has our personal lives.”