The NHS relies on the swift movement of blood, platelets, breast milk, samples, medicines and COVID tests between its providers and patients. Did you know that many of these transfers are undertaken by volunteers? Across the country, hundreds of riders give up their nights and weekends to keep the system flowing, and here at Fitz we have two keen participants in the scheme.
The Blood Bikes initiative was started in the 1960s, by Margaret Ryerson and her husband, from their living room, and today it has grown into a network of groups across the country which offer a vital courier support to the NHS. During their shifts, volunteer riders and drivers transport a range of medical products between hospitals, offering a door-to-door service, often in urgent situations. The local groups are individual registered charities and collectively they offer this courier service to the NHS free of charge, saving the service (and all of us!) hundreds of thousands of pounds annually.
Fitz Domestic Bursar, Alan Fuller and alumnus Paul Smith (MML 1975) have both been Blood Riders for a number of years. They both share a passion for motorcycling and had undertaken advanced riding qualifications before volunteering. But it is clear that for both of them, it is their personal connection to the NHS which brought them to the scheme. As Paul explained, “I think for most of us it’s about giving back. I know for me, in the year before I joined, there was one day when I had three close family members in different hospitals at once, so I felt a real indebtedness to the NHS.”
For Alan, it was the logical next step in his fundraising activity: ‘After my wife survived cancer, we raised a lot of money together, we ran the London marathon and raised many thousands of pounds for the Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust, but this offered something ongoing which combined my passion for advanced motorcycling with something important.’
Paul rides with the Derbyshire Blood Bikes (https://derbyshirebloodbikes.org/), and Alan volunteers with the Suffolk & Cambridgeshire group (https://servsc.org.uk/). Local hospitals are relying more than ever on the service, and both organisations have grown significantly in the last decade, with their fleets of bikes and volunteers expanding to meet the need. The impact that each of these volunteers makes is huge: each run saves the NHS the cost of using commercial couriers (transporting consignments to the value of up to £850!), and some Blood Bike groups are now operating 24/7 to meet the demand. Paul tends to ride once a week, mainly during the day, and Alan fits in night-shifts and weekends around his work at Fitz.
COVID has – as with everything – brought a new complexity to the operation. Workload has increased significantly, with COVID tests often needing urgent transport, precisely at the moment when fundraising is most difficult. But at an individual level it’s also clear that volunteering in this way has brought a welcome sense of perspective in the pandemic. For Paul, who is spending lockdown working at home, it’s an important human contact. “When you’re moving blood, it's often just collecting from one person in a white coat, and passing to another person in a white coat, but with medicine runs, you’re often meeting patients themselves. It’s not a package anymore, it’s a human being with a story.” And for Alan it’s an opportunity to step back from the often-complex logistics of managing Fitz’s operations, “When you’re carrying some platelets, ‘bloods’ or a test sample, it brings with it a sense of ‘making a difference’ to people’s lives. It gives you a nice sense of purpose and achievement...even if it is at 1am!”
If you’d like to find out more about the National Association of Blood Bikes, including services in your area, you can do so here: https://www.bloodbikes.org.uk/