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UK’s first medical drone project secures £10.1 million in funding

AGS Airports and NHS Scotland have secured £10.1 million in funding to deliver the UK’s first medical distribution network using drones.

UK's first medical drone project secures £10.1 million in funding

Credit: AGS Airports

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

It is the second successful round of funding for the Care & Equity – Healthcare Logistics UAS Scotland (CAELUS) consortium which brings together 16 partners including the University of Strathclyde, NATS, and NHS Scotland. Together they are working to deliver what will be the first national drone network that can transport essential medicines, bloods and other medical supplies throughout Scotland including to remote communities.

Since securing £1.5 million in January 2020, the CAELUS consortium has designed drone landing stations for NHS sites across Scotland and developed a virtual model (digital twin) of the proposed delivery network which connects hospitals, pathology laboratories, distribution centres, and GP surgeries across Scotland.

NHS Scotland has said it will bring its ‘Once for Scotland’ approach to the project, the second phase of which will involve live flight trials and removing remaining barriers to safely using drones at scale within Scotland’s airspace.

Fiona Smith, AGS Airports Group Head of Aerodrome Strategy and CAELUS Project Director commented: “The CAELUS project is set to revolutionise the way in which healthcare services are delivered in Scotland. A drones 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.

“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 added: “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 public sector work together they can deliver for Scotland and outperform the competition, attracting welcome funding at this challenging time.”

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. The company was instrumental to early trial flights with NHS Scotland in 2020 and 2021, completing over 12,000 of flight hours in the region to date.

Gary Cutts, Future Flight Challenge Director at UKRI said: “With the potential to quickly deliver medicines, bloods and other medical supplies on demand, the CAELUS project laid the groundwork for revolutionising health care access across Scotland. We know these technologies can change people’s lives, but it’s important we work with communities to understand how they will best benefit from them. By working with local communities and taking a national approach CAELUS 2 will strengthen heath care provision in Scotland.”

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