Why Blood Bikes?
Blood Bikes have been a feature in the UK since 1969. In recent years the number of blood bike groups has grown significantly and there are now hundreds of motorcyclists who freely volunteer their time to the service. People often ask why a blood service is needed and what is that we actually do. If you look at the aims of all the blood bike groups you will see some common themes:
- Saving money for the NHS
- Saving lives
- In addition to this the blood bike groups promote a positive image of motorcyclists to the public
The National Health Service does not have unlimited resources. One area that is very costly to the NHS is courier services. Most hospitals operate an internal courier service to ferry diagnostic specimens, blood, notes, x-rays, scans and other medical equipment between themselves and other hospitals in the area. These services generally operate during office hours, which means that in the evening and at weekends the hospitals need to make alternative provision for items that need to be transported there and then.
In many cases this alternative provision is to use a taxi. With taxi rates around £2 per mile and even more at night, it doesn’t take much for a hospital to run up huge bills. In the South West of England, for example, NHS Blood and Transplant have a regional processing and distribution centre at Derriford in Plymouth. Many hospitals across the South and South West of England send samples to Plymouth for urgent cross-matching.
This can involve journeys such as 150 miles from QA Hospital in Portsmouth costing £300, or 45 miles from the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital costing £90, but the blood bikes that do this for free, often working together so that a blood bike group in one area hands over at the edge of its area to their neighbouring group. This relay approach used by blood bike guards against rider fatigue on long journeys, ensuring safe and efficient transport of precious cargo as well as protecting rider safety.
So why should blood bike groups do this? It is very simple – if they didn’t then more money would have to be found from the taxpayer. Blood bike volunteers give their time, and sometimes their own money, freely. In 2013, we made 2198 deliveries and travelled over 100,000 miles.
There are times when blood, or other medical items need to be transported urgently because a patient’s life is at risk. A blood bike can be relied upon to respond quickly and move with ease through busy traffic, even if it is not fitted with emergency lights and sirens. Furthermore the groups can guarantee to be available after 11:00pm on a Saturday night when the chances of getting a taxi to respond in less than an hour would be slim. To steal the tag line from the MasterCard advertisements, Taxi – £100, Commercial courier – £80, Blood Bike – £0, saving a patient’s life – priceless!
Some people have a negative opinion of motorcyclists. Whether this is because of impatient city-centre couriers, or scare stories about biker gangs, it is something that can unfortunately taint all motorcyclists. All the groups promote good practice among their volunteer riders, who hold an advanced riding qualification to ride on a marked-up blood bike.
High-visibility jackets and marked motorcycles mean our riders are very visible to the public when riding so it is essential that they behave with the utmost professionalism at all times. People who see blood bike riders collecting money, or walking into a hospital ward are often amazed that the groups exist and walk away impressed with the work that they do. Slowly, person by person, we manage to change people’s impressions of bikers. This isn’t the groups’ main reason for existing, but it is a happy side-effect of the work that we do.