One of the drones being tested at Southampton Hospital.

A partnership of four councils in England’s south coast has launched a bid to carry out the first UK trials using drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to transport vital medical equipment between hospitals and GP surgeries.

The move could see the National Health Service NHS start to deliver lifesaving blood samples and chemotherapy kits, to dramatically transform the way emergency services operate. It is also hoped that the drones could be used at serious incidents involving police and fire services.

The Department of Transport has received a bid from Solent Transport – made up of the four south coast authorities of Southampton City Council, Portsmouth City Council, Isle of Wight Council and Hampshire County Council – to use drones for carrying blood and chemotherapy kits. The bid must gain ‘ethical approval’ after experts raised concerns about privacy, security and safety in regard to using the devices.

Solent Transport’s bid follows research by innovation foundation Nesta which showed using this technology would save the UK public sector £1.1 billion and boost the economy by almost £7 billion.

Nesta’s study of five UK cities found traffic congestion and long journey times are causing unnecessary delays to the NHS as well as emergency services. Drones would be flown nearly 15 miles between three Hampshire hospitals under the proposals; Southampton General Hospital [SGH], Portsmouth’s QA Hospital and the Isle of Wight’s St Mary’s Hospital.

Rick Allen, operations manager for SGH Laboratories, said: “If samples get to us quicker, then we can be more assured that the results are accurate and the correct result for that patient. Drones are already being used to deliver blood in developing parts of the world, such as Rwanda and Ghana, but the congested nature of Britain’s airspace make it more difficult.”