A British hospital is to begin receiving emergency supplies by drone from next week after an £8million pilot project was dramatically brought forward to help fight the coronavirus pandemic.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps today committed to fast-tracking the launch of trials between the Solent ports and St Mary’s Hospital on the Isle of Wight to ensure the flow of equipment and medicines.
British Army helicopters have already been drafted in to help get equipment to the unit, the island’s only emergency facility, from 15-20 miles across the Solent.
Making his first appearance at the daily Downing Street news conference today, Mr Shapps said: ‘Earlier this year we awarded £28million to Southampton and Portsmouth to deliver a future transport zone.
‘As part of that initiative £8million was earmarked for testing drones and how they might be used to deliver goods in the years and decades ahead.
‘Of course now we have an urgent need, so we are making use of that testing programme as part of our response to Covid-19.
‘As a result I fast-tracked trials to begin next week to carry medical supplies and equipment to St Mary’s Hospital near Newport on the Isle of Wight.’
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps today committed to fast-tracking the launch of trials between the Solent ports and St Mary’s Hospital on the Isle of Wight to ensure the flow of equipment and medicines
A detachment of 40 soldiers from the Scots Guard by the south block at St Mary’s Hospital in Newport, after being deployed to provide an extra 200 bed earlier this month
Chinook helicopters from 27 Squadron Royal Air Force are also testing methods of patient transferral from the Isle of Wight to the mainland
Mr Shapps also confirmed a multimillion-pound support package to ensure supply routes bringing critical goods into the UK can remain open during the coronavirus pandemic has been announced by the Government.
Up to 31 routes are eligible for support, with up to £17 million available for those between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, and up to £10.5 million for ferry and freight services to the Isle of Wight and Scilly Isles.
Further support is available for critical routes between Britain and the European mainland – including Eurotunnel.
Light rail systems in Manchester, Sheffield, the West Midlands, Nottingham and Tyne and Wear will also receive support.
The funding is designed to ensure required capacity levels are maintained on the routes. Support is expected to be provided within weeks once discussions with operators have been completed.
He has also announced a new Transport Support Unit, with thousands of volunteers and vehicles placed on standby to assist front-line responders during the crisis.
Four aircraft owned by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency are among the assets available to the unit, while Highways England can release control vehicles for potential use as mobile coronavirus testing centres.
Network Rail has 8,500 vans and lorries which can be used to transport essential items.
Mr Shapps paid tribute to the work of transport workers who have gone ‘above and beyond to keep vital freight and passenger services running’.
He added: ‘The actions I have announced today will ensure that transport can continue to serve the nation during this crisis, keep us supplied with everything we need to stay at home, yet also ensure that infrastructure required to emerge from this pandemic stands ready to serve us all when that time does arise.’