Boots has become the first community pharmacy in the UK to deliver prescription medicines by drone, reports a press release.

The retailer flew medicines from the British Army’s Baker Barracks on Thorney Island to St Mary’s Hospital in Newport, Isle of Wight (IOW) three weeks ago. The medicines were then collected by a road vehicle and transported to Boots pharmacies across the island.

The company commented that using the technology speeded up delivery times while being more environmentally friendly compared with the traditional ferry transportation.

Rich Corbridge, Chief Information Officer at Boots, remarked, “Drones have 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.”

He continued, “In this trial, we will be looking at how much time we can save, as well as how we can incorporate drones into our medicines supply chain to create economic efficiencies too.”

Earlier this month the NHS announced it aims to deploy drones to fly chemotherapy drugs to the IOW as part of a pilot scheme, cutting transport time from four hours to 30 minutes.

It is hoped that using such technology may one day enable doctors to make same-day delivery orders for drugs and medical equipment from anywhere in the country. Boots said it is working with medical transportation company Apian to facilitate the shipments.

Rich Corbridge

Max Coppin, Chief Operating Officer at Apian, said, “We want to prepare now for the wider use of this technology in the future. For not only can drones deliver medicines to hospitals, but also demonstrates they can help bring care closer to communities.”

The electric-powered eVTOL aircraft, the largest of which weighs 85kg, have a wingspan of 5 metres and can carry up to 20kg of payload. They were designed and developed by Skylift, selected by Apian to be the project’s drone operator partners. The craft will be based at the British Army’s Baker Barracks on Thorney Island and flown by professional drone pilots. The prescription medicines on the eVTOLs will include those that are regularly dispensed on the IOW.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has given permission for the craft to fly in segregated airspace between Baker Barracks on Thorney Island and St Mary’s Hospital’s helipad. 

(Image: Daily Mail)

During the pandemic NHS Scotland used Skyports drones to carry Covid-19 test samples and test kits up to 40 miles across remote parts of the country. The drone cargo also included medicine, personal protective equipment (PPE) with each craft carrying up to 3kg of supplies.

The trial was funded as part of a UKP1.1 million scheme from the UK Space Agency to capitalise cutting-edge healthcare initiatives.