Volunteer Blood Bikes motorcycle riders help transport blood and other products for NHS hospitals

Eagle eyed TV viewers may have spotted the recent Honda TV adverts featuring volunteer motorcycle riders who transport blood across the country to save valuable resources for the NHS.

One such rider is John Stepney, who joined the blood bikes group SERV (Service by Emergency Rider Volunteers) five years ago and is now the county coordinator covering Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire. He has since done around 70 runs for the charity.

John Stepney volunteered for Blood Bikes group SERV for five years. (Image via John Stepney)

He said: “We provide an out-of-hours rapid response courier service and by that we mean we will do specific transport requests for hospitals who have a need to move anything that is patient related between one NHS facility and another.

“That might be blood from the blood bank to the hospital, it might be a DVD with a neuro-scan from Swindon to Great Ormond Street Hospital, it could be rabies serum; it could be anything that is patient related that will fit on a motorbike, we will move it for free.”

There are currently nine such groups across the UK and John is development officer of NABB (the Nationwide Association of Blood Bikes) which was set up two years ago to represent these to government and the NHS, as well as assist new groups starting up.

Riders cover shifts from 7pm to 6am. (Image via John Stepney)

He said: “NABB is funded through public donation and corporate sponsorship, as are the other organisations within that. We don’t get any government funding and to date we haven’t had any lottery grants so we really are dependent on the goodwill of the public, standing outside supermarkets and anything that corporate organisations can put our way.”

Without the work of the Blood Bike charities hospitals would be forced to pay couriers and taxi drivers to transport products.

John said: “On my particular patch, three years ago we responded to 128 calls. Two years ago we responded to 603 and we have just finished 2011 at 1,000 calls. The overall charity is probably exceeding 5,000 calls for 2011.”

Riders work from 7pm to 6am, with up to three riders on call depending on the size of the patch.

John said: “I think probably bank holidays are the busiest because they are the times when the normal office hours are extended; you can have up to a four day stretch where normal routine deliveries are not as frequent, so we are called upon in bank holidays more than other periods of time. In general it is a fairly consistent workload.”

Riders are affected by road conditions such as snow and ice not only from a road safety perspective; they must be aware of the implications of what they are carrying.

John said: “The temperature of the product we are carrying has to be maintained if it is blood products – not everything is temperature sensitive but the blood products are. If the temperature falls below four degrees centigrade then we will either decline the call or use a car.”

There are nine Blood Bikes groups set up across the country. (Image via John Stepney)

Perspective riders must have an advanced driving qualification – such as from the Institute of Advanced Motorists, RoSPA or the police. They will then undertake training in learning the routes, collection and drop of points, as well as an induction day with specific training on the handling of blood and blood products, as covered by legislation.

John said: “It’s really intensive. We are always going through a recruitment phase because we have a small but steady turnover and in addition to that we are expanding into other areas so we are always looking for quality people – as I say it is quality rather than quantity.”

Listen to the interview with John Stepney below:


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