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Drones to fly blood samples between London hospitals

The NHS is to use Google’s autonomous drones to fly blood samples between London hospitals in an effort to speed up medical tests.

Wing, the drone operator owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet, has been chosen to deliver high-priority samples between Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospitals in south London.

The trial could start as soon as this summer and will be the first use of Wing’s drones in the UK, meaning the company is likely to beat Amazon to launching this year.

The company’s white and yellow aircraft, roughly a metre high and wide, can travel at up to 58 miles per hour and for up to six miles.

It is working with the medical logistics company Apian, which is made up of former NHS doctors and Google employees, and whose drone trials are being funded by the health service.

Wing’s involvement in the trial was revealed by airspace change proposals lodged with the Civil Aviation Authority that redacted the company’s name but contained images of drones featuring Wing’s logo.

The drones are expected to fly between the hospitals’ roofs, with flights limited to 10 a day, only on weekdays and between 9am and 5pm. Hundreds of blood samples are currently delivered from Guy’s hospital to the laboratory at St Thomas’ each week to monitor patients after kidney transplants.

They are currently delivered twice a day by a bicycle courier but it is hoped that frequent and quicker drone deliveries could mean fewer delays in processing samples.

The trial could start as early as July and is likely to last six months, although if successful it could potentially be expanded.

A report by the research charity Nesta in 2018 suggested that London could have a network of drone deliveries between hospitals.

Wing carries out drone deliveries for companies including Walmart in the US and has worked with Apian in Ireland. Last year the two companies said they were looking at options in the UK.

Wing said: “As announced in August, we are exploring opportunities in the UK through our partnership with Apian. Our objective is to pioneer medical drone delivery in a trial that best serves patients and providers.”

It said details “are still in the exploration phase”.

Apian said it did not comment on ongoing airspace change proposals. Amazon has said it plans to launch drone flights in the UK by the end of this year. The Telegraph

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