Ambitious NHS Highland plans to use drones to deliver medical supplies to hospitals, GP surgeries and care homes across the region has been welcomed.
The health authority is in partnership with Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the University of the Highlands and Islands to explore if drone technology could be used.
They are seeking a private drone operator to investigate the potential of making supply chains more efficient.
An NHS spokeswoman said: “It is our hope that we can find a partner to work with us to explore the development of an airborne logistics service, based in Inverness, but serving our requirements across the highlands.
“We envisage in the future that drones and unmanned vehicles could form a key part of our logistics service and add resilience into our supply chains.
“They could be used to transport goods and supplies across the region, delivering and picking up items from sites including, but not limited to, GP surgeries, hospitals and care homes.”
A Prior Information Notice (PIN) has been issued so that the partnership can have a look at what is currently out there, both in terms of the market and the available technology.
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The notice states: “We need a service that can deal with the worst aspects of the weather and our mountainous terrain but still be resilient and reliable.
“A service that is safe and secure is of paramount importance, as is the ability to demonstrate a cost-effective and sustainable service can be achieved.”
Highland MSP Edward Mountain said: “I welcome this collaboration between NHS Highland, HIE and UHI to pioneer new technology.
“There’s a long way to go before drones can safely deliver medicines but it is encouraging to see the Highlands leading the way in the pursuit of innovation.”
The use of drones could see hospitals sending and receiving supplies by drone, helping improve delivery times and reduce the environmental impact of procurement processes.
AS the NHS Highland area includes the Caithness, Skye and Argyll, it could cut the amount of time need for road transportation, particularly on some rural routes at times badly affected by weather.
In Malawi in Africa drones have been tested for use in supplying medicines along a Humanitarian Drone Testing Corridor.