Drones could be used to courier chemotherapy drugs to Northumberland cancer patients

Drones could one day be used to courier chemotherapy drugs to remote and hard-to-reach areas of Northumberland

By Amanda Bourn
Friday, 8th July 2022, 2:43 pm
Updated Friday, 8th July 2022, 2:43 pm

A pilot scheme is being trialled in the Isle of Wight to assess using the technology, and talks are underway so Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust can try it next.

The aim is that drone technology will enable doctors to make “same-day delivery” orders for drugs and medical equipment from anywhere in the country.

It would mean medicines could be delivered to areas such as Holy Island and more remote parts of the county in a fraction of the time it currently takes to transport them by road.

Drone are already widely used across the world to transport medicines.

As part of the trial in the south, a drone will deliver chemotherapy drugs from the pharmacy at Portsmouth Hospitals University NHS Trust to St Mary’s Hospital on the Isle of Wight.

The drone cuts delivery times to the Isle of Wight from four hours to 30 minutes, as one flight replaces two car journeys and one hovercraft or ferry journey per delivery.

NHS England officials say chemotherapy is difficult to transport as some doses have a short shelf life, which is why using drones is so beneficial.

As well as saving time and money, the new delivery method, launched in partnership with tech company Apian, will offer a better option for cancer patients living on the Isle of Wight, many of whom have to travel to the mainland for treatment.

A Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust spokesperson said: “Northumbria Healthcare is currently exploring the possibility of using drones to make urgent clinical deliveries across the very large area we cover but plans are at a very early stage.

"We’re working with the relevant authorities to see if a pilot scheme is viable, and we’re hopeful it could bring some very positive benefits to the region.”

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “I want England to become a world leader in cancer care and using the latest technology to deliver chemo by drone means patients will have quicker, fairer access to treatment no matter where they live.

“As the NHS turns 74, innovations like this will help improve patients’ access to lifesaving care while ensuring the NHS is making the best use of the record funding we’re investing to bust the Covid backlogs.”