The NHS will trial the use of drones to deliver life-saving chemotherapy drugs within half an hour.
Doctors believe the pilot scheme, which will ferry the drugs from a hospital in Portsmouth to the Isle of Wight, could be the first step towards “same-day delivery” for the health service.
It is hoped that drones will enable doctors to order drugs and medical equipment from anywhere in the country for delivery that day.
In the trial, chemotherapy drugs will be delivered from a pharmacy at Portsmouth Hospitals University NHS Trust to St Mary’s Hospital on the Isle of Wight.
The drone will cut delivery times 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 chemotherapy is difficult to transport as some doses have a short shelf life.
The new method, launched in partnership with tech company Apian, will save time and money and offer a better option for cancer patients living on the island, many of whom have to travel to the mainland for treatment, officials added.
After the Isle of Wight the drone programme will be trialled in Northumbria.
‘Quicker, fairer access to treatment’
Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of NHS England, 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.
“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.”
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.”