Zipline lands in the UK

A UK-based healthcare logistics company has roped in the logistics efficiency of Zipline’s drones to significantly expand its national Health Service (NHS) program to deliver medical supplies to hospitals, GPs and care homes in the Northumberland region in northern UK.

Apian, the logistics company running the programme, will roll out the Zips in partnership with Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust by the autumn of 2024.

The programme started was introduced as a trial in February this year, with the two partners, Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation and Apian exploring the use of drone technology in delivering chemotherapy drugs, blood samples and other items between sites.

The trials – which sought to streamline time-sensitive medical deliveries, improve patient experiences and reduce carbon emissions – were running five days a week from Wansbeck General Hospital at Ashington to Alnwick Infirmary, then to Berwick Infirmary, covering a one-way distance of 107km.

Return flights from Alnwick and Berwick would deliver pathology samples to Wansbeck alongside other items that may include blood packs, prescriptions, medical equipment and mail.

Apparently, the trials were a hit, because nobody wants the deliveries to stop; with Zipline now entering the picture as drone partner.

Having had years of experience delivering medical supplies in Africa, and in the US where the company is now working with companies like Cleveland Clinic, Pfizer, and Walmart, the Zipline delivery system has now got its foot in the door for the largest healthcare employer in Europe.

 “This expansion with Zipline and Apian is an exciting next step as we strive to improve services for the hundreds of thousands of patients we serve,” said Sir James Mackey, Chief Executive Officer of Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust.

“We believe this innovative technology could be used to improve healthcare outcomes, save money and eliminate supply chain complexities, and we’re keen to get started.”

This new service will provide an opportunity for timely delivery of prescriptions, wound care and other frequently needed medical products through an on-demand delivery service; thus allowing for a reduction in the number of cancelled procedures, as well as a decrease in wait times.

As is the company’s modus operandi, Zipline will centralise the inventory of frequently ordered medical products from where they will be delivered to Hexham General Hospital, Wansbeck General Hospital, Haltwhistle War Memorial Hospital and regional health facilities within minutes of getting the order.

This hub will be erected near the Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital in Cramlington, Northumberland.

The ultimate goal is for Zipline, Apian and the NHS to serve more than 30 GP, care and health facilities across the region, reducing the health system’s reliance on expensive last-minute logistics to move products between facilities when needed. Over time, the organizations expect to grow their operations and deliver to significantly more health facilities.

“I’ve seen first-hand the impact that running out of supplies can have on patient health outcomes,” said Dr. Christopher Law, Medical Director and Co-Founder of Apian.

“Healthcare should benefit from on-demand delivery, much like consumers now do in their personal lives. Delivering critical products with drones, where and when they’re most needed, will improve supply chain efficiency and give doctors, nurses and clinicians more time to focus on the most important thing — their patients.”

A healthcare technology start-up founded by two trainee doctors, Apian gained traction at the height of the Covid -19 pandemic when it worked with the NHS as part of the latter’s Clinical Entrepreneur Programme. It established a network of secure air corridors for drones to navigate using satellite-enabled GPS.

The start-up also installed take-off and landing infrastructure so its aircraft can take-off from and land onto hospitals, laboratories and warehouses.

“Today 3,000-pound gas vehicles driven by humans are used to deliver three-pound packages billions of times per year. It’s expensive, slow and bad for the environment,” said Keller Rinaudo Cliffton, CEO and Co-Founder of Zipline.

“This decision means that the NHS can start to transition delivery to solutions that are ten times as fast, less expensive, and zero emission. This service will be delivered at a fraction of the cost of existing solutions, and will help drive financial savings to the NHS in the longer term.”

. Its fleet of fixed-wing, fully autonomous aircraft (Zips) use robust technologies, including artificial intelligence, to fly quietly and autonomously. Zips can travel up to 130 miles roundtrip in almost any weather condition, and release packages with parachutes that float down to a hospital’s outdoor area. All Zips have fully redundant safety systems and are supervised by trained aviation personnel who can track a Zip’s flight and intervene if necessary.

Currently carrying out a delivery every 70 seconds worldwide, Zipline has flown more than 60 million commercial miles to date, and delivered millions of medical products worldwide, including more than 13 million vaccine doses.

1 Comment

  • Sascha Reckert Reply

    23 December 2023 at 02:02

    I just wonder about the regulations, because this drones need to flight out of sight and that is a difficult permission process still, even impossible in Germany, as I know. From technical point of view drones can be used for many inspection and delivery usages and can help saving money and environmental impacts, but regulations kill most of the possibilities. In South Africa they do, so innovation comes from there?

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