Source: Boots

Boots has completed a test flight of a prescription-only medicine drone delivery service.

The retailer transported medicines from the British Army’s Baker Barracks on Thorney Island near Portsmouth to the helipad at St Mary’s Hospital on the Isle of Wight.

There they were collected by Boots staff and transported to its pharmacies across the island, where they will be dispensed to patients with prescriptions for them.

Boots is now “assessing the potential for using drones” to transport prescription medicines, the company said.

“Drones have a huge potential in the delivery of medicines and it is incredibly exciting to be the first community pharmacy in the UK to transport them in this way,” said Boots chief information officer Rich Corbridge.

“An island location like the Isle of Wight seemed like a sensible place to start a trial of drones and their value to the delivery of medicines to more remote locations is very clear,” he added.

Boots worked with medical drone startup Apian – which is currently working with several NHS Trusts on medicine and supplies delivery trials – to facilitate the test flight. The uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) used in the trial are electric, weigh 85kg, have a wingspan of 5m and can carry up to 20kg of payload.

They were designed and developed by manufacturer Skylift. The drones will be based at the army barracks and flown by professional drone pilots. The Civil Aviation Authority granted permission for the UAVs to fly in segregated airspace between the barracks and St Mary’s Hospital’s helipad for the course of the trial.

“Not only can drones deliver medicine to hospitals but we are particularly excited about our partnership with Boots as it demonstrates drones can also help bring care closer to communities,” said Max Coppin, COO at Apian.

“Whilst faster and more reliable than ground transportation, they bring with them additional environmental benefits and offer a more sustainable solution for delivery,” he added.

The drone trial is continuing, with Boots assessing “how much time we can save, as well as how we can incorporate drones into our medicines supply chain to create economic efficiencies too”, said Corbridge.

“We want to prepare now for the wider use of this technology in the future,” he added.