Space company takes to the skies alongside the NHS

The UK Space Agency has today backed a healthcare drone start-up founded by NHS staff, to help in the response to COVID-19

The pandemic has seen the country pulling together, with organisations across the space sector stepping forward to help.

Apian, part of the NHS Clinical Entrepreneur Programme, aims to establish a network of secure air corridors for electric drones to navigate via satellite-enabled GPS. Each drone will be able to carry COVID-19 samples, test-kits and PPE. This will avoid courier call-out waiting times, free-up NHS staff, reduce unnecessary physical contact and minimise the risk of secondary transmission of the virus.

The project will be based at Broomfield Hospital, part of Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust and will be supported by the local Anglia Ruskin University as the academic partner. Befittingly, the hospital stands on a WW1 Royal Flying Corps Airfield.

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said:

The efforts of the UK’s space sector to support our incredible NHS during the COVID-19 pandemic have been truly inspirational.

The projects we are backing today are fantastic examples of how our leading space scientists are supporting those directly on the frontline to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

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.

The healthcare drone company is one of three new projects using space-enabled technologies and services to support the NHS in the ongoing battle against COVID-19.

The UK Space Agency is also backing DriverNet – a mobile app that will use satellite technology to provide access to more affordable community transport for people wishing to go to and from COVID care providers, and those looking to participate in community sport.

By using artificial intelligence to batch patients by their ‘geolocation’ – their mobile phone location triangulated by satellites – and encouraging transport sharing, costs and miles could be cut by half. This could also help reduce the 15 million missed NHS appointments each year.

NHS workers and patients will get a notification through text or on their app when shuttle services are available in their area.

Professor Tony Young, the NHS

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