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Boots becomes the first pharmacy to provide drone delivery of prescription drugs

Boots has become the first community pharmacy in the UK to drone prescription-only medicines. The company revealed today that it had carried out a test flight which carried the drugs from the British Army’s Baker Barracks on Thorney Island, near Portsmouth, to St Mary’s Hospital on the Isle of Wight.

Boots uses drones to deliver prescription drugs to Isle of Wight residents. (Photo courtesy of Boots)

Working with medical drone start-up Apian, Boots secured permission from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to fly the drones in a separate airspace between the mainland and the island.

Why does Boots use drones for prescription drug delivery?

Boots says he is assessing the potential wider use of drones for the delivery of prescription drugs, joining the Isle of Wight NHS Trust, which is testing the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to take delivery of medicines. Portsmouth chemotherapy treatments. The pilot, which was announced on the NHS’ 74e anniversary, also involves Apian as a private partner.

Boots CIO Rich Corbridge said today that drones have huge potential in the delivery of medicines and the company is delighted to be the first pharmacy in the UK to transport them in this way. He also explained that the Isle of Wight was a ‘smart place to start a drone trial’ because of the obvious value of delivering medicine to remote locations.

The CIO goes on to say that Boots is studying the time it can save by using drones in its supply chain as well as economic efficiencies: “We want to prepare now for the wider use of this technology in the future.”

The Boots trial uses rotary-wing drones. These are particularly useful for landing in areas where space is limited, says Dr Reza Mohammadkhani, assistant professor at the University of Sussex’s School of Engineering and Computer Science. “Rotary-wing drones are more popular because they can take off and land vertically – no launcher or runway needed,” he says. “They are best suited for more precise handling applications.”

However, says Dr. Mohammadkhani, these types of drones “require more mechanical and electronic complexity, leading to more complicated maintenance, decreased uptime and increased cost.”

Remote islands using state-of-the-art technology for reliability and connectivity

Remote areas are unsurprisingly popular when it comes to testing the potential of drones. The NHS pilot project on the Isle of Wight was launched because the island’s hospital trust believes it can be more effective with treatments, which have a short shelf life, and reduce delivery times of four hours to 30 minutes, while saving fuel. Each drone delivery replaces at least two car trips and one hovercraft or ferry trip per delivery.

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Royal Mail is also testing drone technology for deliveries to the Shetland Islands, Orkney Islands, Isles of Scilly and Isle of Mull. He said the use of drones increases delivery reliability, especially in foggy conditions, while providing additional connectivity for remote communities.

Research has found that drones also emit less carbon than conventional air cargo and other traditional forms of transport such as cars and ferries.

Drones are not a ‘one-size-fits-all approach’

The NHS and Royal Mail are just two examples of businesses using drones for delivery, but some fear the companies are taking a tech-driven approach to solving a business problem.

According to McKinsey, over the past three years, there have been more than 660,000 commercial drone deliveries to customers — not including test flights. He also estimates that more than 2,000 drone deliveries took place every day in 2022, but said the rate of growth is accelerating every week.

“We expect there will be nearly 1.5 million deliveries in 2022 as a whole, compared to just under half a million in 2021,” Mckinsey said in a blog post.

However, as the drone economy looks set to take off, McKinsey warns that there will be three determining factors in future adoption: how drones are regulated; whether the public accepts them; and the cost of delivery by drone.

Seb Robert, CEO and founder of Gophr, says drones are unlikely to be a “silver bullet” for deliveries in hard-to-reach areas. “There are some amazing examples of drone delivery working well and providing a vital service – medical deliveries in the Australian bush for example,” he says. “The Isle of Wight trial location makes perfect sense; hard-to-reach areas are where drones come into their own.

However, he fears that those attracted to the benefits of drones will use the technology in places where it is not suitable, such as in urban areas: experienced pilot to avoid unexpected obstacles,” adds Robert. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach.”

Read more: UK spent £1bn on drones to spot migrants in the canal

Joan J. Dean

The author Joan J. Dean