Blood Bikes: These Motorcyclists Save Lives
If you’re a motorbike enthusiast and want to help save lives, consider becoming a blood biker. The Nationwide Association of Blood Bikes was set up over 40 years ago to help the NHS transport urgently needed blood, patient notes and medical supplies out of hours.
Cornwall’s Motorcycle Heroes
Ian Butler, 51, is a submarine project engineer by day and has been an active member of Cornwall Blood Bikes for a number of years.
“I first heard about Cornwall Blood Bikes in February 2014, when I was watching an episode of Emergency Bikers. There was a two minute slot on the UK’s Blood Bike set up. It featured the Western group operating around Bristol, but it really caught my interest and the next morning I went on the internet to find my nearest group.
“I wasn’t getting out on my bike very much, once every 2 weeks or so, and being ex Royal Navy, the team structure really appealed to me. It was also an excuse to go on the Advanced Biking Course.”
Speeding to Your Aid
Blood Bikes operate between 5pm and 7am weekdays and 24/7 over the weekend and on Bank Holidays. The system is fairly simple, with a number of bikers on call at any one time.
“A typical call-out starts with a hospital calling one of our co-ordinators, who then evaluates the requirements and rings a rider close by. At the hospital pick up point, the rider meets a staff member holding the cargo, who signs a receipt book and places the cargo in the rider’s protective satchel. This satchel goes into the pannier of the motorcycle, so it has several layers of protection. The rider then heads off to the delivery point, which could be another hospital ward, blood bank or laboratory.”
Items are signed in when they arrive, and bikers keep in touch so their co-ordinator can send them on somewhere else and knows they’ve got home safely.
How Do They Help?
Blood bikers can be asked to carry a huge range of medical items, as Ian explains.
“We’ve carried blood and tissue samples, organs, frozen breast milk (for mothers who can’t nurse new-borns), documents, drugs, surgical instruments, x-rays… the list goes on.
“We don’t always know what we are carrying and prefer not to know as a rule. If you know it’s for a child, the pressure and adrenaline clouds your judgement, and safe riding can be diminished in favour of speed.”
Although Ian doesn’t like to brag about the difference he’s making, it’s clear that this type of work saves lives. And although Cornwall Blood Bikes mainly work locally, they often collaborate with other blood bike groups around the UK.
“We sometimes take packages further afield, so we contact other groups and relay the package across the country – meeting at pre-arranged drop points for the changeover.
“Just recently, a relay took place between the Dumfries and Galloway Group in Scotland, and London, using four Blood Bike groups in total. This is thought to be the longest Blood Bike job ever done.”
What Makes a Good Rider?
“We don’t advertise for bikers – it’s always a word of mouth thing, which usually ensures we get people who are genuinely interested. All our riders are reliable and courteous, but there’s no one type of person. Our ranks are made up of engineers, police officers, bricklayers, chippies, retired people, a nurse, a tree surgeon, two company directors, a guest house owner and many more.
“To make sure they’re safe on a motorcycle, we have an induction period which includes riding assessments, dry runs to hospitals and mandatory training. Like anything in life, people take to riding in very different ways. There’s no set mileage or number of years that must have been completed. The only prerequisite we insist on is being an advanced rider, or training for it. I personally passed my test in 2004, but before that my experience was sketchy at best.
“We aren’t a First Responder Service or Paramedics, so there’s no requirement to be First Aid trained. It can be helpful if you come across an accident, but we normally train in more specialist things, like how to deal with a cargo spillage that could be a biohazard.”
As a volunteer organisation, people give up their spare time to help run the charity, with varying levels of commitment.
“Everyone’s work schedule is different and people’s lifestyles vary. People give what they can and are scheduled in to supply a constant state of readiness for the NHS throughout the month. Some of our team ride only weekends, some can only do week days; some are retired or semi-retired and can slot in anywhere.
“I now mostly take care of the charity’s PR and media. I also organise the kit and PPE that’s required by the Health Authorities for riders to transport cargos.”
The charity currently have three police spec motorcycles or riders can use their own, which isn’t a problem for these speed addicts!
“We have to maintain and service the bikes ourselves,” Ian explains, “so we’re always trying to grow our collection and renew older ones. Until now we’ve only had the option of buying second-hand bikes from other Blood Bike groups, but we are well on course to order and buy our first brand new one. Anyone wishing to buy us a motorcycle get to name it!
“When the charity bikes are not available, riders use their own machines at their own cost. Riders can claim back petrol costs, but the majority gift this back to the charity or just don’t claim it, so in many respects, the riders who use their own bikes really do supply everything for free.
“Riders wear their own normal or wet weather riding gear when out on a job. The charity supplies an EU compliant hi-vis jacket with ‘BLOOD’ written all over it. Other gear supplied includes a set of hard case panniers which serve as one of the protection layers for the cargo.”
Fundraising and Awareness
Blood Bikes Cornwall has seen a rise in support in recent years thanks to their fundraising efforts and awareness campaigns. The number of members has also doubled! In April, Ian took part in a BBC News Spotlight interview about the charity, and has had great support from local radio and press.
“We aren’t funded by the NHS in any way, so all the charity’s money comes from shaking tins at supermarkets and functions, fundraising events, people’s individual donations and a little corporate support which we are trying to grow. It costs in the region of £25,000 a year to run the charity. All donations go on PPE, equipment for the carriage of the cargo and bike upkeep (tyres, MOT, tax, servicing, insurance, running costs and fuel).
“Our presence at events is growing nowadays as our name and our work gets out there. We generally have at least one Emergency Bike to show off and this always attracts lots of interest and questions. We are also investing in a new gazebo so we can sell trinkets and exhibit the bikes out of the wind and rain.
“We’ve recently started holding our own events, such as a black tie dinner earlier this year, called the Rat Pack. It was a resounding success! Our next one is in the pipeline at a car dealership with a local comedian called Jonny Cowling. We also hold a weekly Bike Night in a nearby restaurant to raise awareness and promote safer motorcycling.”
A Fun and Rewarding Past Time
So what keeps Ian going when delivering medical items in the dark, wind and rain?
“We do all this because we love motorbikes and love riding them. We have skills that we have decided to use in a certain way, and the buzz you get from knowing that what you’ve done has made a difference is amazing.”
The information in our blog articles is for personal use only and not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment plans. We are not medical health practitioners or mental health providers. If you’re worried about a potential medical condition, contact your GP or call an ambulance in an emergency situation.