A day in the life of a Derbyshire Blood Bikes Rider:
Geoff Medland, one of a small number of volunteer call-handlers for Derbyshire Blood Bikes medical courier service takes a call from the Pathology Department at the Royal Derby Hospital.
The request means one of their volunteer motorcyclists, Nick Phipps, will set out on a 250 mile round trip with an urgent blood sample to be taken to Great Ormond Street Hospital in Central London. Both know that if someone’s asked for this to be done, it must be important and urgent.
Nick completes the pre-ride checks on the 2013 BMW F800GT, one of the charity’s two BMW motorcycles before setting out from home to collect the samples from Amanda at the Pathology Department at the main Derby hospital. It’s 11.05am.
Everyone knows how unpredictable motorway travel can be and anyone who’s driven in London will know that it’s not a pleasant experience, but a motorcycle makes these journeys far more predictable. Blood Bikers cannot exceed speed limits, and Derbyshire Blood Bikes does not fit blue lights and sirens, preferring their riders to use their skills to make progress. Nick arrives at Great Ormond Street just before 2.30pm, after a long journey through heavy traffic on what was one of the hottest days of the summer.
Saving the NHS Money & Helping Save Lives
Without Derbyshire Blood Bikes, the hospitals have few alternatives for the transportation of urgent samples. The only other practical one would be to send a taxi from a local company at considerable cost.
Derbyshire Blood Bikes is a registered charity. It’s operated by volunteers who provide their service completely free of charge to the NHS in Derbyshire, most frequently the Royal Derby Hospital. The journey to London will be one of around 800 journeys the Blood Bikers will undertake for the NHS this year – they are on track to cover over 50000 miles.
The charity’s aim is ‘saving the NHS money and helping save lives’. The first aim, ‘saving money’ is quantifiable and in 2016 was around £45,000. ‘Helping to save lives’ is less easy for them to quantify. They are never told the medical story behind the journey, but, occasionally they do find out why they became involved and that journey to Great Ormond Street was one such occasion.
Cancer is a terrible condition that devastates families and is especially distressing when it affects a 10-month old child. This particular patient was being treated by the Royal Derby Hospital and had both bladder and prostate cancer. As another cycle of chemotherapy came to an end, the treatment was to be continued by the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital, a world-leader in paediatric medicine. Those blood samples were needed urgently to allow that treatment to be planned ahead of the patient transfer. The blood bikers are waiting to see if they will hear good news.
With a little help……
Derbyshire Blood Bikes receive no funding from government or the NHS. Every year they have to raise in excess of £15000 just to operate. This does not provide the income to replace their older motorcycles. Earlier this year, through Foundation Derbyshire, they were awarded £5000 from the Derbyshire Freemasons. This helped to fund their first new BMW F800GT motorcycle.
These motorcycles are ideally suited to the work and the Charity’s Coordinator, Mark Vallis explains why. “The F800GT is very economical and easy to operate. The belt drive means our riders have no oily chains to worry about. The bike is agile on urban roads but is equally comfortable on long journeys. It’s becoming very popular with blood bike groups as well as the emergency services that still operate motorcycles”. A second motorcycle this time fully funded by the Mark Benevolent Fund is currently on order.
More recently still, the Charity was astonished to receive another very substantial donation from Freemasons Grand Charity. To commemorate 300 years of Freemasonry, the Masonic Charitable Foundation has supported 300 charities nationally with a share of £3 million. Open to the public and Freemasons, over 177000 votes were cast. The 300 nominated Charities received a fantastic amount of support from their local communities and Derbyshire was no exception. Six Charities were nominated, all of which have been given substantial donations.
Derbyshire Blood Bikes were the winners of the vote and have received a donation of £25000. This money will help the organisation with much needed funding and will secure their financial future for some time to come.
Into the future
The charity has 38 volunteers, most of them are motorcyclists and all help out with fundraising events and the other jobs needed by a small charity.
Bob Whitmore, the charity’s Chairman, instrumental in setting up the charity in 2011 said: “I’ve seen the charity grow in the last few years. From just a handful of jobs each month, it is unbelievable where we are now and we’re doing more than I ever thought possible. We have a dedicated group of volunteers, but we always have a need for more help, with riders and our fundraising events. All Derbyshire blood bikers have to be advanced qualified but motorcyclists shouldn’t be put off by that. There’s plenty of help to get to IAM or RoSPA advanced level”.
Derbyshire Blood Bikes is a motorcycle service but they also operate a Toyota RAV4 car, used when the weather conditions dictate that the bikes are grounded. They are also now looking to put a small economical car on the road, not only to support the service in poor weather conditions but also to extend the possibilities for non-motorcyclists who wish to help out too. Bob Whitmore tells us “we get a lot of offers of help from people who are willing to use their own car to do ‘runs’. A small car will give us more flexibility and certainty for the hospital”.
All Derbyshire Blood Bike volunteers undergo a short training course about the safe transport of biological samples before they are asked to carry out their duties, which are extremely varied. Mark Vallis told us “as well as blood and biological samples, we will transport donated frozen human milk, medication, equipment and records. Our scheduled weekend service from the Urgent Care Centre in Derby transports hundreds of phlebotomy and other samples to the Derby Pathology Lab, but other calls can take us anywhere. Most often we are sent to Sheffield or Birmingham medical facilities, but trips to Nottingham, Leeds and Liverpool are not unusual. As we are one of the few blood bike groups across the UK to operate a 24-hour service, the chance to link up with other blood bike groups’ volunteers are rare, so we almost always have to complete the journeys door-to-door”
As well as recruiting the right volunteers, funding is one of the charity’s biggest challenges. In 2017, they have planned over 90 events. This not only helps to raise their profile and vital funds, but it also gives them chance to thank those who have helped fund the service and this year they’ve taken their Derbyshire Freemasons sponsored motorcycle to both Bakewell and Ashbourne Shows for the Freemasons’ display.
Derbyshire Blood Bike volunteers put in many hours of unpaid work, some motivated because they have suffered a serious illness or injury and within their ranks there are cancer survivors and recipients of lifesaving blood transfusions. Others do it simply because they see real value for the NHS. Regardless of what motivates them to get out and help, they all share the same pride in a job well done.
Please click here for a youtube video about Derbyshire Blood Bikes