Mercury Drone Ports, based in Montrose, will provide a trials airspace for drones to operate to and from multiple healthcare facilities between Angus and Dundee assisting with the response to Covid-19.
The first drone trials will begin in March, a move which Angus Council leader councillor David Fairweather described as a step in “transforming” the healthcare system for the region.
The new transportation method aims to provide the NHS with an on-demand collection and delivery service, allowing samples to be collected from local medical practices for analysis at pathology laboratories at larger hospitals via a quicker and more reliable service.
Establishing Angus as a centre of excellence for the development of drone technologies in Scotland, Mercury Drone Ports will provide a trials airspace area to support drone companies and end users conduct onshore and offshore drone flight trials.
Receiving funding from the UK Government’s £26.5 million Angus Fund, as part of the Tay Cities Region Deal, Mercury Drone Ports is a public-private partnership between Angus Council and DTLX, supported by a number of local and national businesses.
The new environmentally friendly and efficient mode of transportation will provide the NHS with an on-demand collection and delivery service, allowing samples to be collected from local medical practices for analysis at pathology laboratories at larger hospitals quicker and more reliably than current transport alternatives.
Mr Fairweather, said: “By introducing drone transportation services and working with the NHS we can play our part in transforming the health system in Angus.
"This level of improvement could potentially allow life-saving treatment to be able to commence earlier by reducing testing times, speeding up diagnoses for patients, all at a reduced cost to the NHS by reducing the reliance on expensive taxi transportation that currently exists.
“As the significant demands continue for COVID-19 testing, we are delighted to lead the way through innovative technologies to increase connectivity with our rural facilities, at a time that the NHS requires
UK Government Minister for Scotland, Iain Stewart said that drones have “huge potential in Scotland”, from connecting health services to remote communities, to helping maintain renewable energy installations, to assisting with Scottish aquaculture and environmental monitoring.
He continued: “The UK Government is investing in Scotland’s first Drone Port in Montrose to put Scotland at the forefront of innovation while bringing new jobs and investment to Angus.
“We are also supporting the innovative use of drones in the west of Scotland at Oban, with support from the Argyll and Bute Growth Deal and the UK’s Community Renewal Fund as part of £1.7 billion investment to level-up communities across Scotland.”
Chris Hind, Clinical Laboratory Manager at NHS Tayside, also said that the health authority is “delighted” to be part of the drone delivery trial.
He continued: “This project will benefit our understanding of future opportunities to develop and improve our supply chain and help resilience in response to challenges such as the Covid-19 pandemic.
“This trial operation will ensure that we have a fast and frequent transport service which can be used for Covid-19 testing as well as a range of other pathology samples.
“To increase our capacity in diagnostic testing, NHS Tayside plans to extend phlebotomy testing hours at some regional medical practices.
"We are very interested in testing additional logistical support to transport patient samples, which would permit samples to be taken at later times than currently possible for delivery to the main testing lab at Dundee Ninewells Hospital.
“We believe drone delivery services will help to improve diagnostic sample transport times across Angus rural areas, helping NHS Tayside to provide an equitable level of healthcare across Angus, regardless of a patient’s geographical location.
"In addition, this can be a more efficient, cost effective and lower carbon means of increasing capacity whilst improving provision in the region.”
Mercury Drone Ports will be based within the clean growth enterprise hub, ZeroFour, in Montrose, a partnership project being developed between Angus Council and Crown Estate Scotland, and which currently has planning permission in principle for a mixed-use business park on part of what was the town’s historic RAF airfield.
The site was the first operational Royal Flying Corps, later Royal Air Force, training base in the Uk, with the ZeroFour name emerging from the original runway call sign 04 22.
As well as the drone port, the ambitious project includes proposals for
industrial units, warehousing and start-up units, offices, training facilities, research and development space, supporting ancillary services and hotel, leisure & conference facilities.
The new hub forms part of Angus Council’s long-term plans to drive sustainable development, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve energy efficiency and create renewable solutions for transportation and energy across Angus and the wider Tay Cities region.