Hi, my name is Ian and I have been volunteering for Northumbria Blood Bikes (NBB) in the North East of England since late 2017.
I heard about the charity at a “Biker Down” motorbike safety event I attended which is a free course for motorbikers run by Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service. It teaches you what to look out for when riding and how to help other riders if they’ve had an accident.
Upon hearing about NBB I thought it was a great idea to combine my love of motorbiking and appreciation for our National Health Service. I hadn’t realised that the Blood Bikes are a voluntary service and are completely separate from the NHS. It’s a charity, so you don’t get paid for doing it, but equally it doesn’t cost you anything to ride their variety of motorbikes and enjoy the North East scenery along the way! I am 34 years old and work full-time so wasn’t sure how the shifts would work for me. It turns out there are a variety of shifts you can choose from and you can do as many as you like.
You need to have an advanced riders’ qualification from either the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) or the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents RoSPA. Once you have one of those qualifications you can apply to be a blood bike driver or blood car driver (or both) and need to attend the free training course. I already had these qualifications so was pleased that I could put them to good use.
NBB is one of the largest (if not THE largest) Blood Bike organisation in the UK, both in terms of geographical area covered and jobs completed. They cover hospitals, the North East Blood Bank, labs, care homes and GP practices in the counties of Northumberland, Newcastle, Durham and Darlington. All of this is at no cost to the NHS. I was amazed to find out how much money we save the NHS when they use us, because the alternative for them is to spend public money on private transport such as taxi hire and couriers.
As our name suggests, we transport packs of blood safely stored in blood boxes. But we also transport other types of packages such as samples, paperwork, equipment and even healthcare staff (although we don’t put the staff in the boxes, and only in the cars!).
I am a blood biker and a shift controller. The blood biker role is fairly obvious, wearing the high-vis jacket with “Blood” written on the back, along with the awesome big motorbikes with the blue lights and hooked up to the radio to talk to other riders / drivers and the shift controller. The shift controller role involves coordinating all the phone calls that come through from the hospitals, GP practices, etc and assigning those jobs to the riders and drivers. I am fortunate to get this “full-circle” understanding of the entire process from the time the NHS requests a blood biker, through to the blood biker being dispatched and making the delivery.
The variety of jobs is exciting. Sometimes a job is only a few miles between hospital labs, sometimes a round trip can take more than 100 miles round trip across our area, and sometimes the recipient is the Air Ambulance! NBB makes daily deliveries to the Great North Air Ambulance to make sure they always have blood on board for their callouts.
Apart from knowing the type of package we’re transporting (blood, sample, equipment, document), we never actually know what’s in it or who the package is helping. We never know the reason for transporting the package, all we know is that we are helping to make a positive difference to someone’s healthcare. We don’t know the patient we’re helping and never get to meet them. The mystery makes it all the more exciting.
It’s a nice feeling when we’re sometimes waiting at a hospital for the next job when members of the public come up to us and offer to buy us a coffee or make a donation. They tell us their story, most of which have involved the use of a blood bike somewhere along the lines.
My most memorable moment was on my very first shift. They prepare and train you very well, but there is a time when you’ll be riding a blood bike on your own for the very first time and all the training kicks in. It also didn’t help that the blood bikes were much larger than I was used to back then! But only 10 minutes into the shift all the nerves had gone and I had quickly settled down into the shift. Everyone’s done a first shift at some point! All NBB members make you feel like family – the blood bikers, drivers, controllers, fundraisers and committee.
I am also a keen “Beeliner” and have been using their Beeline Moto since it was released over a year ago. It’s always a good idea to be prepared for your ride and have a route and waypoints already in your head so you know where you’re going and what to look out for along the way. But the Beeline Moto is a non-intrusive device which sits on my handlebars and acts as an instant reminder of which turn to take next or how far to the next junction.
I would like to thank Beeline for raising funds for the Northumbria Blood Bikes charity and suggest to anyone reading this to consider purchasing a Beeline device because some of the proceeds are being sent to NBB. You could also get in touch with your local Blood Bike charity (there’s loads of them all over the country) who would love to hear from you and welcome you as part of their family of volunteers.
Northumbria Blood Bikes