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UK’s first medical drone delivery: £10M funding for NHS Scotland and AGS Airports

NHS Scotland AGS Airports Skyparts
Image credits: Glasgow Airport

In the latest development, a consortium led by AGS Airports, in partnership with NHS Scotland, has secured £10.1M in funding from the Future Flight Challenge at UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to deliver what will be the UK’s first medical distribution network using drones. 

It is the second successful round of funding for the CAELUS (Care & Equity – Healthcare Logistics UAS Scotland) consortium, which brings together 16 partners including the University of Strathclyde, NATS, and NHS Scotland. 

Fiona Smith, AGS Airports Group Head of Aerodrome Strategy and CAELUS Project Director, says, “The CAELUS project is set to revolutionise how healthcare services are delivered in Scotland. A drone 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.”

Creating drone network

Together, they are working towards the first national drone network that can transport essential medicines, blood, and other medical supplies throughout Scotland including remote communities.

Post raising £1.5M in 2020, the CAELUS consortium has designed drone landing stations for NHS sites across Scotland. In addition to that, they have also developed a virtual model of the very delivery network. 

“Once for Scotland”

NHS Scotland intends to bring its “Once for Scotland” approach to the project, the second phase of which involves live flight trials and removing remaining barriers to safely using drones at scale within Scotland’s airspace.

Smith adds, “The second round of funding from UKRI will allow our consortium to undertake live flights and 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.”

Public Health Minister Maree Todd said: “This innovative project will help position Scotland at the forefront of drone technologies to deliver essential healthcare supplies to people more quickly and provide equity of care between urban and remote rural communities.”

“It also demonstrates an effective industry partnership showing that when businesses, universities, and the public sector work together they can deliver for Scotland and outperform the competition, attracting welcome funding at this challenging time,” adds Todd. 

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. 

Alex Brown, Director of Skyports Drone Services, says, “The benefits case for drone operations in Scotland is clear, particularly across the public health sector. We’ve already demonstrated the positive impact drone interventions can have on individuals and communities, and we’re eager to kick off the next round of flight trials with the view to soon facilitating permanent drone deliveries to connect people to these essential supplies – wherever they are.”

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