Drones are using Vodafone’s 4G network to transport medical supplies between NHS hospitals and facilities in a remote part of western Scotland.

The drone flights can cover up to 40 miles (64km) at a time, with each drone capable of carrying up to 3kg of medical supplies, such as medicine, COVID-19 testing samples and kits, and personal protective equipment (PPE).

The flights, operated by drone specialists Skyports, are the first in the UK to receive approval from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to carry diagnostic specimens.

Both scheduled and on-demand flights will service Lorn & Islands Hospital in Oban; Mid-Argyll Community Hospital in Lochgilphead; Easdale Medical Practice in Clachan Seil; and the Mull & Iona Community Hospital in Craignure.

The drone flights should dramatically reduce not only the cost but the time needed to deliver supplies to each destination, from as long as 36 hours to as little as 15 minutes – benefits that Argyll & Bute’s NHS authorities will assess during the three-month trial.

The flights will take place along predetermined routes and be controlled from the Skyports operations centre in Oban. The trial follows a successful test flight which took place last year.

Argyll & Bute stretches over 2,500 sq m (6,475 sq km) along the west coast of Scotland and is home to some of the most remote communities in the UK.