UK joins Ghana in trialling drones to deliver medical supplies

The United Kingdom will begin drone trials next week to deliver medical supplies, the transport secretary Grant Shapps said on Friday.

The initial trial will carry supplies to St Mary's Hospital on the Isle Of Wight just off the south coast of England.

"I fast-tracked trials to begin next week to carry medical supplies and equipment," Shapps announced at the daily briefing.

This follows £28m awarded by the government earlier this year to Southampton and Portsmouth councils to carry out drone operations as part of a wider trial.

That funding included more than £8m for the company and the University of Southampton to develop the UK's first unmanned traffic-management system (UTM) to integrate drone flights into normal air traffic control.

The UK’ joins Ghana who announced earlier in the month that they would be using drones to deliver medical equipment and test samples.Currently Ghana has two main drone stations, Omenako in the Eastern Region and Mampong in the Ashanti Region.

In March, the government announced funding for drone tests and a new air traffic control system.

However, Mr Shapps said there was an "urgent need" for the trial to begin sooner than planned.

Ferry crossings to the Isle of Wight are currently reduced due to the spread of coronavirus.

An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) can make the crossing to the Isle of Wight in about 10 minutes.

The government expects about four flights per day to be made, depending on the needs of the NHS.

Thousands of volunteers, vehicles, aircraft and ships from the transport sector - including a Boeing 737 - have been placed on standby as part of a new Transport Support Unit (TSU) to help frontline responders.

They will perform tasks such as moving emergency patients, as well as food and medical supplies.

Highways England vehicles could also potentially be used as mobile COVID-19 testing centres.

Network Rail has 8,500 vans and lorries which could be used to transport essential items during the crisis.

The drone trials will use a petrol-fuelled Windracers Ultra fixed-wing drone, capable of carrying 100kg for up to 1,000km (621 miles).

Meanwhile, 684 people have died in the last 24 hours taking overall numbers to ust over 19,000 who have died of coronavirus in UK hospitals.