NHS to Scale Up Drone Delivery Program of Critical Medical Supplies using Apian and Zipline

Apian, a UK-based healthcare logistics company, is partnering with Zipline, the world’s largest autonomous instant delivery company, to significantly expand an NHS program delivering medical supplies to hospitals, GPs and care homes, using electric, autonomous drones.

The program will roll out with Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust by the autumn of 2024, creating local job opportunities in the region.

Used by companies like Cleveland Clinic, Pfizer, and Walmart, the Zipline delivery system will create a more efficient supply chain, ensuring facilities have the necessary medical devices and prescriptions in-stock to serve their patients.

This new service will provide timely access to prescriptions, wound care and other frequently needed medical products through an on-demand delivery service. In the long term, this could allow healthcare providers to reduce the number of canceled procedures, and thus decrease wait times.

Sir James Mackey, Chief Executive Officer of Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust said: “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. 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.”

Zipline will centralize the inventory of frequently ordered products such as prescription medicines, wound care products and joint replacement implants, and will deliver them to Hexham General Hospital, Wansbeck General Hospital, Haltwhistle War Memorial Hospital and regional health facilities within minutes of getting the order. Ultimately, Zipline, Apian and the NHS will 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.”

Apian, which was co-founded by a team of former NHS doctors, has built a platform which integrates both healthcare and aviation, creating a fully automated, on-demand delivery system that allows the NHS to easily place orders and Zipline to seamlessly fulfill them.

“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 the existing solution, and will help drive financial savings to the NHS in the longer term.”

Zipline, which currently completes a delivery to a customer every 70 seconds, will build a hub for its operations near the Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital in Cramlington, Northumberland. 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. 

Since its founding, 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. Independent studies from leading institutions such as the University of Pennsylvania and The Lancet have found that the Zipline delivery system has saved lives, reduced blood wastage, and lowered the likelihood of medical products stockouts.

The NHS is the largest employer in Europe. This partnership will complement Zipline’s existing operations in North America, Asia, and Africa.