Britain's National Health Service (NHS) is celebrating its 74th birthday on Tuesday with the announcement of a revolutionary trial to cut delivery times for cancer drugs with the use of drone technology.
The drones, set to make their first flight in the coming weeks, will mean that the lifesaving chemotherapy treatment can be picked up and dropped to patients on the same day.
In a first-of-its-kind trial, starting on the Isle of Wight in coastal England, chemo will be flown directly from a pharmacy at Portsmouth Hospitals University NHS Trust to St. Mary's Hospital, where staff will collect it before distributing it to hospital teams and patients.
"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, said NHS chief executive Amanda 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. 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, she said.
Chemotherapy is difficult to transport as some doses have a short shelf life, so the NHS has partnered with tech company Apian to come up with a new way of getting the treatment to patients in record time .
Drones will cut the usual delivery time from four hours to 30 minutes, saving fuel and money and making cancer care much more convenient for patients living on the Isle of Wight who often need to travel to the mainland for treatment at the moment.
"My mother worked for the NHS in Portsmouth her entire life before she passed away from cancer three years ago, said Alexander Trewby, Apian CEO.
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, he said.
Each drone delivery replaces at least two car journeys and one hovercraft or ferry journey per delivery saving carbon emissions and contributing to improving air quality for patients and the community. It will also help the NHS become the first health system in the world to become carbon neutral, the health service hopes.
The drone programme will be trialled initially in the Isle of Wight followed by Northumbria in northern England and could allow clinicians to make same-day orders for vital medical equipment and other treatments.
The trial is a joint effort between Isle of Wight NHS Trust, Portsmouth Hospitals University NHS Trust, Solent Transport, University of Southampton, King's College London, Skylift, Modini, the Ministry of Defence, UK Research Institute (UKRI) and Apian.
The NHS in its Long Term Plan committed to deploying the latest cutting-edge technologies while rolling out new innovations and treatments to patients across the country.
Earlier this year, the taxpayer-funded health service announced that patients with Parkinson's disease would be given life-changing smartwatches that allow doctors to remotely assess their condition in a pioneering project to revolutionise NHS care. The health service also began treating sickle cell patients with a life-changing drug after striking a deal for the ground-breaking treatment, crizanlizumab, which will be offered to up to 5,000 patients within three years.
For patients with advanced and aggressive forms of cancer, the NHS said it has struck a number of deals this year, from the 30-minute treatment for advanced womb cancer called Dostarlimab, to a life-extending injection for blood cancer, called daratumumab that can extend the lives of patients with a recurring and incurable cancer of the bone marrow cells known as multiple myeloma by an average of nine months.
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