The NHS is to use drones to courier chemotherapy drugs in a bid to speed up the delivery of vital medicines.
It is hoped that using drone technology will one day enable doctors to make “same-day delivery” orders for drugs and medical equipment from anywhere in the country.
A pilot scheme is to be launched to assess using drone technology in the health service.
The trial will see a drone deliver chemotherapy drugs from the pharmacy at Portsmouth Hospitals University NHS Trust to St Mary’s Hospital on the Isle of Wight.
The drone will cut delivery times to the Isle of Wight from four hours to 30 minutes, as one flight will replace two car journeys and one hovercraft or ferry journey per delivery.
NHS England officials said that chemotherapy is difficult to transport as some doses have a short shelf life.
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 island, many of whom have to travel to the mainland for treatment, officials added.
The drone programme will be trialled initially in the Isle of Wight followed by Northumbria.
Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of NHS England, announced the pilot as the health service marked its 74th birthday on July 5.
She said: “Delivering chemo by drone is another extraordinary development for cancer patients and shows how the NHS will stop at nothing to ensure people get the treatment they need as promptly as possible – while also cutting costs and carbon emissions.
“From a smartwatch to manage Parkinson’s to revolutionary prostate treatments and making the most expensive drug in the world available to NHS patients it has been another amazing year of innovation in the way the health service delivers treatment and care.
“As the NHS turns 74 it is clear that the pace of change and improvement across the health service is only accelerating, as our fantastic staff seek to make the most of life-changing advances to improve patients’ lives as we promised in the NHS Long Term Plan.”
Darren Cattell, chief executive of Isle of Wight NHS Trust, said: “The island has a long history of innovation. We are excited to continue that tradition by utilising the latest technology to overcome the challenges we face and to provide the very best service to our patients.
“We are still at a relatively early stage but the use of drones to transport medical supplies is a concept that has radical and positive implications for both the NHS and for patients across the UK as well as the Isle of Wight. It is great to be part of this innovative project.”
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.”