Drones to revolutionise medical sample deliveries in the North West

University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay (UHMBT) and Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust are set to team up to deliver a revolutionary drone project to Lancashire and South Cumbria.

Funded by £1.4m from UK Research and Innovation, the project will first trial flying medical samples between the Royal Lancaster Infirmary, Westmorland General, and Furness General Hospital, before seeing whether the drones can expand their reach to Royal Preston Hospital.

It is estimated that the use of drones will cut the delivery time of samples across Morecambe Bay by more than hour, subsequently allowing patients and health professionals to access pathology results sooner, further expediting treatment pathways.

Medical samples are currently delivered by vans which takes multiple trips a day, meaning the change will reduce the Trust’s carbon footprint further supporting the health sector’s wider green ambitions.

Professor Anthony Rowbottom MBE, Clinical Director for Pathology at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals, said: “This important project will revolutionise deliveries across a specific part of Lancashire and South Cumbria and provide valuable insight into how this can be expanded across a larger pathology partnership network.

“Not only will this expedite the transfer of patient samples but if successful could provide scope for branching into other NHS services and, in the not too distant future, should be seen as standard practice. In the long-term, with the right ambition and direction, why not aspire towards potentially extending drone use to home delivery for patients.”

The initiative is part of the Government’s Future Flight Challenge and will run for approximately 20 months, with this specific project set to be trialled for around 90 days.

The drones will travel in their own dedicated airspace, flying 250 feet above the ground, which has been achieved thanks to co-operation from the Civil Aviation Authority and other organisations.

Phil Woodford, Director of Corporate Affairs at UHMBT, said: “We live and work in one of the most beautiful parts of the country and we have a responsibility to do so in as safe and sustainable way as possible.

“It typically takes anything from 60-90 minutes to drive a van between the RLI and FGH whilst spewing out pollutants that damage the atmosphere and our health. Travel time door to door with the drone will be achieved in around 15-20 minutes - slashing the normal time by up to 70%. It also has the potential to aid clinical decision making with the removal of unnecessary transport delays.”

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