Drones to carry PPE between hospitals after UK Space Agency provides funding

Lizzie Roberts
·2-min read
The medical drone delivery service that makes it possible for the machines to carry Covid-19 samples, test-kits and PPE between hospitals has been backed by the UK Space Agency.  - Annalisa Russell-Smith/PA
The medical drone delivery service that makes it possible for the machines to carry Covid-19 samples, test-kits and PPE between hospitals has been backed by the UK Space Agency. - Annalisa Russell-Smith/PA

Drones carrying PPE and coronavirus test kits will soon transport the supplies between NHS hospitals after receiving backing from the UK Space Agency.

Apian, which was founded by NHS staff as part of the NHS Clinical Entrepreneur Programme, aims to establish a network of secure air corridors for electric drones to navigate via satellite-enabled GPS.

Using the drones to help in the Covid-19 response will avoid courier call-out waiting times, free up NHS staff, reduce unnecessary physical contact and minimise the risk of secondary transmission of the virus.

The project will be based at Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford, part of Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust, and will be supported by the local Anglia Ruskin University as the academic partner.

The hospital stands on a First World War Royal Flying Corps airfield.

Christopher Law, from Apian, said: "Covid-19 has highlighted challenges in NHS supply chain logistics.

"There has never been a better time to create a faster, more dependable and environmentally friendly method of transporting medical supplies.”

The start-up company was founded by Hammad Jeilani and Mr Law, trainee doctors at the Barts and The London, as well as Mid and South Essex NHS innovation fellows.

Using the drones to help in the Covid-19 response will avoid courier call-out waiting times, free-up NHS staff, reduce unnecessary physical contact and minimise the risk of secondary transmission of the virus. - Annalisa Russell-Smith/PA
Using the drones to help in the Covid-19 response will avoid courier call-out waiting times, free-up NHS staff, reduce unnecessary physical contact and minimise the risk of secondary transmission of the virus. - Annalisa Russell-Smith/PA

Drone pads will be installed so its aircraft can take off from and land at hospitals, laboratories and warehouses.

The project had already begun trials, but now, following investment, the company will create the UK's NHS Air Grid (NAG), a network of secure air corridors designed to safely, rapidly and effectively enable drone delivery across the NHS.

It is working closely with the Civil Aviation Authority, UK Space Agency and the emergency services to create these corridors.

Writing in The Telegraph, Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: “During a year in which the Covid-19 pandemic has engulfed the world, (drones) have come of age – showing us what they can do for humanity on a global scale.”

The drone project is one of three which will share £1.3 million of funding, as part of a joint initiative between the UK Space Agency and the European Space Agency (ESA).