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Guest editorial Friday 6 December 2013: Why the NHS definitely needs drones, by CSU Cassander

In this guest editorial, the genius of CSU Cassander is unleashed on solving the woes of the NHS through drone technology - by sheer coincidence, his new commercial sideline

Nigel Lawson once referred to the NHS as "the closest thing the British have to a national religion"; and like all religions, the NHS has a somewhat stormy relatonship with science and technology. The most senior NHS doctors have the skills to resuscitate a cybernetic man, yet the so-called consultant ophthamologist at my local hospital refused to even look at the patchy eye-tracking on my Google Glass.

Despite giving an expert description of the headaches I was enduring, I was waved away like a queue jumper at an Apple launch. To compound the Soviet-standard customer service, I was apalled to discover that the hospital car park wouldn't accept BitCoin.

I had to pay by Visa.

Not Visa payWave.


Hello? NHS? The past called on an iPhone 4S – it wants its technology back.

It doesn't have to be this way
Just this week, in what was definitely not a publicity stunt, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos outlined a thrilling vision. By 2018, he wants his firm to deliver parcels using unmanned aerial vehicles - or, to use the lay vernacular - drones.

Simply looking at a picture of his house will tell you why we should all strive to be more like Jeff Bezos - and why every organisation should want to be more like Amazon.

Perhaps the NHS is complacent - perhaps there's a feeling that paying no corporation tax makes it similar enough to Amazon already. This is wrong, and it's probably the reason that a full 1.8% of NHS patients would be unlikely to recommend their care to a friend or relative.

The best way to improve this shocking statistic is for the NHS to take a leaf out of Amazon's eBook and invest in drone technology.

The obvious reasons
Firstly, the NHS and drones are a perfect fit from a public relations point of view. Both cost billions of pounds and are frequently accused of killing the innocent. Wouldn't it be great for both to be involved in a good-news story that, according to a pack of PowerPoint slides I bought from a management consultancy, is all but guaranteed to result in 20% cost savings over 5 years?

Drone technology, too, is ideally suited to a healthcare application. Military drone targetting systems already have a strong track record of identifying hospitals, schools and wounded civillians. The computer software which keeps the drones in the sky is bound to meet the core NHS IT requirements of being incredibly complicated and incompatible with all existing systems.

Think also of the opportunity for helping patients take responsibility for their own health. When the patient of the near future goes to the doctor with an epic hangover or a bad case of Apple Product Launch Queue Flu, he won't get a prescription for some antibiotics. He'll get an activation key for the FlyMyMedator app, allowing him to fire up a drone – ready-loaded with all the antibiotics he needs – and navigate it across the city to his home, workplace or favourite ceviche restaurant.

A small price to pay (metaphorically speaking)
There's no getting around it: drones aren't cheap. The high-end models start at around 4 million USD. The NHS can either wait for Tesco to bring out a no-frills version, or start thinking creatively.

The NHS is in a strong position to offer some great Kickstarter perks: who wouldn't donate serious money in return for a go on a surgical laser robot or a day shadowing that doctor who operates on Cybermen?

Alternatively, the NHS has vast amounts of property and land doing nothing but sit around and accumulate value. I, or many of my fellow techtrepreneurs, would be happy to accept some of this real estate in exchange for a reasonable number of drones and a fixed-term support contract.

The inescapable conclusion
Investing in drones immediately is a win-win for the NHS. The project will pay for itself, over a timeframe which is comfortably long enough for everyone involved in the purchasing decision to get jobs elsewhere. Making a bold choice now will save NHS managers from a stream of far less brilliantly-written articles about drones and healthcare appearing in future editions of the HSJ.

There really is no foreseeable downside – except the very remote possiblility that an unplanned drone/building interaction might make the NHS's High Impact Innovation strapline fashionably ironic.

About the author
Cassander Grey is the Chief Technologist, VP of Sales and sole employee at MyMedatorDrone LLP. If he sells enough drones to the NHS, he can buy a big house. You can follow him on Twitter at @CSUCassander"