ESSEX hospitals are taking part in a trial which experts say could revolutionise the NHS.
A drone will begin test flights later this month from Broomfield Hospital in the hope it will one day be able to transport PPE and Covid-19 samples.
The drone, which has a three-metre wingspan, could also be used to carry blood tests.
The first phase of trials will see the drone fly in and around the hospital grounds without carrying any cargo.
It will then move off-site on pre-agreed flight paths, which will include trips to Basildon Hospital and the Pathology First Laboratory in Basildon.
A purpose-built landing pad is being built on the hospital site in Chelmsford for the flights.
Bosses say it is a fitting location for the trials as Broomfield was once a First World War airfield.
Charlotte Williams, director of strategy for the Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We are really excited to be involved in this project and see how the use of drones could help deliver real benefits to both patients and staff, with a reliable time-saving service.”
The UK Space Agency is helping fund the project through a £1.3million grant.
Healthcare drone company Apian is providing the small aircraft and co-founder Christopher Law is confident the trials will be a success.
He 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, helping improve patient health outcomes.”
The drone will be flown via remote control at Broomfield Hospital.
Bosses say an ex-military pilot will be in charge of the flights.
The drone, which is almost silent when cruising in forward-flight, will be flying at 300ft above ground level, ensuring it stays away from manned aircraft – which fly above 500ft.
It has been designed to fly in harsh weather conditions.