Scheme delivering COVID-19 tests to Scottish island by drone gets govt funding


A scheme using drones to deliver coronavirus test kits and medical supplies to a Scottish island has received government funding to help tackle the pandemic.

Skyports, the company behind the drones, ran a two-week trial delivering items essential to tackling the COVID-19 outbreak between the islands on Scotland’s west coast at the end of May and beginning of June.

It was able to cut delivery times between Oban hospital to another on the Isle of Mull – which are 12 miles (19km) apart – to 15 minutes. The journey would normally take 45 minutes by both road and ferry.

The drones will be flown from Oban to the Isle of Mull
The drones will be flown from Oban to the Isle of Mull

The UK Space Agency and the European Space Agency have a budget of £2.6m to award to space-enabled technologies which can support the health service’s response to the pandemic.

Skyports has received part of the £1.1m in funding which has already been awarded, while £1.5m remains open to bids until September.

It flew supplies between Lorn and Islands District General Hospital, in Oban on Scotland’s west coast, to the Mull and Iona Community Hospital in Craignure on the Isle of Mull.

Skyports said the trial marked a milestone for UK drone flights as the medical deliveries will be going out of sight of the machine’s operator, which is currently not allowed.

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The company has worked with the Civil Aviation Authority to make the trial happen.

Duncan Walker, Skyports chief executive officer, said: “Delivery drones are a fast and reliable solution for vital medical supplies.”

He added that the company is “proud to assist the NHS” in providing healthcare to people in “harder-to-reach areas”.

The Isle of Mull shut its borders to non-permanent residents ahead of the Scottish lockdown to protect its small community
The Isle of Mull shut its borders ahead of the lockdown

The two other companies which have received funding include Isolation +, which uses space-derived data to identify and support vulnerable people.

Funding was also awarded to Stay, an app being developed to help charities which support young people’s mental health and well-being.

Science minister Amanda Solloway said: “I’m proud of how our world-leading space sector is stepping up to provide innovative solutions to directly support our amazing NHS, as we continue our national effort to tackling coronavirus.

“The projects we are backing today show UK ingenuity at its finest, and will make a real difference to how we use this latest innovative technology to deliver critical healthcare now and long into the future.”

The drones will carry essential medical equipment such as COVID-19 tests and PPE to Mull
The drones carried essential medical equipment such as PPE

Professor Tony Young, NHS national clinical lead for innovation, added: “The NHS Long Term Plan is bringing new technologies into the NHS to improve patient care and save lives.

“As we deal with the greatest challenge in the NHS’s history, innovation in medicine and convenient, faster technology are helping frontline staff to give people world-leading treatment for COVID-19 alongside care for killer conditions including cancer.”

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