NHS volunteers who made 112,000 trips between hospitals in the North West to save lives

As launches go, this could probably be described as inauspicious.

North West Blood Bikes’ first volunteer began his shift just like the hundreds of others who followed him downwind over the decade that followed – ready to pick up the phone, pick up potentially cargo vital and to transport her from one hospital to another in record time.

There was only one problem that inaugural party in May 2012 – the calls never came.

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“The first guy on duty stayed up all night in bike gear, but was never contacted,” recalls one of the association’s founders, Paul Brooks. The former Lancashire police officer – who had spent 28 years in the force’s traffic division – was an avid biker, but knew nothing of the Blood Bikes concept, even though it was already operating in other parts of the country.

When he found out in retirement, Paul was keen to help Lancashire benefit from a setup that sees volunteer cyclists called in by the NHS to transport essentials such as blood, breast milk and surgical instruments there where they might be needed.

In those early days, that usually meant traveling between Royal Preston and Chorley and South Ribble Hospital – both facilities operated by Lancashire Teaching Hospitals (LTH), the NHS trust to which the embryonic charity has first offered his support. It’s fair to say that demand for the Blood Bikes service – and the distances covered by its now 300-strong army of cyclists – has skyrocketed over the past decade. Memories of shifts without calls are now distant visions in side mirrors.

As the charity celebrated its milestone birthday under a red-lit Blackpool tower in its honor on Thursday evening, it was set to record its 112,000th delivery. Now serving hospital trusts across Lancashire and South Cumbria – and facilities such as Blackpool Victoria Hospital, Furness General, Royal Lancaster Infirmary, Royal Blackburn and Southport and Ormskirk Hospitals – the organization performs in average 1,300 deposits per month.

Paul, who chaired the charity for the first seven years of operation, told LancsLive that a “conservative estimate” indicates that North West Blood Bikes (Lancashire and Lakes) saved the NHS £6, £5million in transport costs over the past decade.

“It’s money that can be spent on patients or equipment. It’s beyond our wildest dreams – when we started we really didn’t expect it to be as successful as it has become. But now we’ve walked the equivalent of the distance to the moon and back about five times,’ says Paul, who set up the charity with former Lancashire paramedic Graham Jones, who had previously considered to set up a Blood Bikes service in Lancashire when Paul too started looking into the idea.

Based in Bamber Bridge, the service operates out of hours – between 6pm and 2am on weekdays and 24 hours a day on weekends and public holidays – when the NHS’s own transport services would generally be unavailable and hospitals would have to rely on expensive taxis.

“I think the fact that we’re free makes them use us,” laughs current Blood Bikes chairman Mark Entwistle, who lives in Blackpool.

“But we have to do it right – there are a lot of rules about how you transport things, including [the need to maintain certain] temperatures. Every race is different; one might be five miles, but others – say from Barrow – might be an hour and a half one way.

“We transport everything that can be cycled, except people. A lot of it is about samples – and Covid has increased that – but also medicine is taken between hospitals and also from hospitals to nursing homes. Then, of course, there are blood products and theatrical instruments. A lot of hospitals in the same trust share resources – so there’s a lot of back and forth between them, because they don’t always have everything in one site.”

“We don’t know the patients we’re transporting blood or materials for, but it’s amazing how often when we’re at an event somewhere – and we’re in the process of shaking our collection boxes – that the people come in and say we delivered something for them or their family when they needed it,” adds Mark.

Mark Entwistle, President of North West Blood Bikes

He is one of 60 “controllers” for the Blood Bikes – the operators who handle the phones and dispatch up to 15 cyclists who can be on the road for a single shift across the body’s five divisions. charity. They are also awaiting the call to say a runner is safe at home – a now poignant moment after the death of volunteer Russell Curwen, 49, in Lancaster in 2018.

John Walker, a rider from the Lancaster, Kendal and Barrow patch, says most volunteers are drawn to the service because of their own experience of being cared for by the NHS and a desire to ‘give something back’. return”.

“More than nine years ago, I had a serious crisis of stress at work. It was so bad I thought I was having a heart attack and they took me to Blackpool Hospital for tests. When I was back at work I saw a sign that said Blood Bikes was looking for riders – and I’ve been with them ever since.

“There’s nothing better than when there’s a nurse waiting at the door to take something from you – especially if it’s a children’s ward. One night I even had to transfer some pagers to a hospital because they need a fixed amount available – and if I hadn’t taken them they would have had to shut down a particular unit that night.

“So you’re doing something you really love – riding a bike – and you have the added benefit of helping people at the same time,” says John.

The charity hopes others will now be tempted to join the voluntary transport service that the NHS in Lancashire and South Cumbria have come to rely on – either as riders, controllers, administrative staff or fundraisers. Although it has a total of 450 healthy volunteers and no employees, it still costs around £10,000 a month to keep the service on the road – and so every pound collected and every hour donated is crucial.

Currently around £1,500 of that monthly bill is spent on fuel, but just under half of that regularly replaces the charity’s fleet of bikes – the mileage of which means they last for life of only about two or three years.

Riders must have an advanced qualification to ride one of the Blood Bikes’ own specially equipped and delivered machines, but those without such a qualification can use their own bikes – and also cars – if they still want to get involved.

Mark says that while these volunteers can claim fuel costs for the use of their own vehicles, most choose not to.

“It’s about supporting an organization that is under immense pressure. Sometimes it’s just nice to do something for nothing,” he says. After ten years of riding to the rescue of a financially struggling NHS, hospitals in Lancashire would no doubt agree.

Blood Bikes at the foot of Blackpool Tower
Blood Bikes at the foot of Blackpool Tower

“Here Come the Heroes”

Kevin McGee, chief executive of Lancashire University Hospitals, said of the charity’s tenth anniversary: ​​’We have been privileged to be the first trust in our area to work with North West Blood Bikes, and we thank them for their ten years of dedicated service to the communities of Lancashire and South Cumbria.

“During the pandemic, Blood Bikers have become an even more essential part of our extended team, transporting COVID-19 test results and specialist equipment between locations, helping us to ensure patients receive the best care possible. as quickly as possible. They are heroes who continue to help save lives every day and we look forward to continuing to work with them in the years to come. »

In numbers

It is estimated that £6.5million – the amount North West Blood Bikes has saved Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS since 2012.

£750,000 – annual amount the charity is now estimated to save the NHS in the region

112,000 – number of deliveries made over the past decade

45% – proportion of monthly costs that go on new bikes

22% – proportion of monthly costs spent on fuel

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