It can now be revealed that the drones are being piloted by former RAF, Royal Navy and combat helicopter pilots who are recognised as the top drone trainers in the UK and all work for leading unmanned aircraft training company Flyby Technology which is based in York.
Flyby founder Jon Parker, himself a former RAF fighter pilot, said: “We are talking about the kind of aerial innovation here that has been missing since the days of the Apollo space missions and it has moved forward exceptionally quickly over the last few months. We are learning some great lessons from our successes so far.”
Flyby Technology is part of the British Drone Consortium which is flying live Covid samples to laboratories from hospitals and tests sites in support of NHS Test and Trace.
Jon said: “It’s a privilege for the British Drone Consortium to be called upon in the NHS’ hour of need. The drones are supplementing current logistics, keeping the testing machines operating to capacity. This makes the whole system more efficient, bringing to bear the full capacity of the testing infrastructure.”
The drones will also carry test kits and personal protection equipment between hospitals and will mean delivery can be quick, reducing pressure on NHS staff, avoiding unnecessary physical contact and minimising the risk of secondary transmission of the virus.
The first project is based at Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford, part of Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust, and is being run by a company called Apian Ltd founded by clinical entrepreneurs and doctors Hammad Jeilani and Christopher Law. Apian is installing ‘dronepad’ infrastructure so remote-controlled aircraft can take-off and land onto hospitals, laboratories and warehouses.
Christopher Law from Apian said: “Covid-19 has highlighted challenges in NHS supply chain logistics. There has never been a better time to create a faster, more dependable and environmentally friendly method of transporting medical supplies. We are confident that by setting up a medical drone delivery service we’ll be able to fly samples to labs more regularly, reliably and quickly, improving patient health outcomes.”
Apian is working with the Civil Aviation Authority, the UK Space Agency and the emergency services to provide a network of secure air corridors designed to safely, rapidly and effectively allow drone delivery across the NHS.
A government spokesman said: “While Apian’s current task to rapidly deliver Covid-19 samples and PPE is in line with both Government and NHS priorities, NHS England anticipates that the recovery phase of this pandemic can significantly benefit from drones delivering other medical payloads including equipment, medications, blood packs and more.
“Therefore, investing in their solution will continue to provide the NHS with an enhanced logistics system even after the pandemic is behind us.”