NHS trials delivering chemotherapy drugs using drones

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NHS England is trialling the use of drones to rapidly deliver chemotherapy drugs. 

The announcement, made on the 74th birthday of the NHS, will see drones pick up lifesaving drugs and enable same-day delivery to patients.

“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,” said NHS Chief Executive Amanda Pritchard.

In the latest trial, chemotherapy drugs will be flown from the pharmacy at Portsmouth Hospitals University NHS Trust to St Mary’s Hospital.

Chemo drugs are difficult to transport due to their often short shelf lives. The NHS partnered with medical drone startup Apian to ensure the drugs get to the hospital quickly to be distributed to patients.

“My mother worked for the NHS in Portsmouth her entire life before she passed away from cancer three years ago,” said Apian CEO Alexander Trewby.

“This project marks a very important first step in the construction of a network of drone corridors connecting hospitals, pathology labs, GP surgeries, care homes and pharmacies up and down the country so that in the future, everyone’s mother will benefit from the delivery of faster, smarter, and greener healthcare”.

Using Apian’s drones, the average delivery time of the drugs is expected to be cut from four hours to 30 minutes.

“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,” commented Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid.

“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.”

The UK has a long way to go to become a world leader in cancer care. Especially for stomach and lung cancers, the country has one of the lowest survival rates.

An upcoming ‘10-Year Cancer Plan’ aims to improve the diagnosis and treatment of cancer in the UK. A public consultation for ideas and evidence towards the plan closed on 8 April 2022.

“Our upcoming 10-Year Cancer Plan will set out a vision for how we will speed up diagnosis, roll out innovative new treatments, and revolutionise cancer services across the country,” added Javid.

Beyond helping to ensure patients can access lifesaving drugs quickly, the NHS’ use of drones will reduce its environmental impact. The NHS aims to become the first health system in the world to be carbon neutral.

The NHS says each drone delivery will replace at least two car journeys and one hovercraft or ferry journey.

“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,” added Pritchard.

“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.”

(Image Credit: Apian)

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