An unbroken marathon of life-saving service hit an amazing record today with the completion of 100,000 runs by volunteer blood bikers.
Their dedication to deliver vital NHS supplies has continued round-the-clock for nine and a half years regardless of appalling weather, snarled traffic and back-to-back pandemic lockdowns.
Today’s stunning milestone means the riders have taken blood between hospitals across the North West and the southern Lakes on average at least once an hour, every hour, for over 3500 days. During a busy 12 hour shift the service can be called out over 70 times, or once every ten minutes.
The people who do it share two passions: a deeply held care for the NHS and a love of motorcycling.
What began as a “hard to fathom” offer of practical help, has become a key support service. As well as saving countless lives, North West Blood Bikes Lancs and Lakes also saves NHS time and money.
Health trust transport bills for moving blood and other urgent supplies including donor breast milk, operating theatre equipment, platelets and tissue samples have been slashed by more than £10,000 each week since the service was formed in 2012. The total £5.5 million that would have been spent on taxi and courier deliveries is now freed up for vital patient equipment and services.
Run 100,000 today was completed with little fanfare and no awareness on the part of the patient whose wellbeing depends on a 400-strong team of bikers and support crews. all are volunteers.
“We started out with four people. Now it’s four hundred riders, controllers and members,” said founder member Paul Brooks. “Number 100,000 will be just another run for us, but it’s pretty amazing to think we’ve gone on so long, without a break, thanks to support from so many people.”
Tributes to the work of the entire blood bike team were led by Barrow & Furness MP Simon Fell, where Furness General Hospital at the tail end of the A590 is a regular long run for many riders.
He said: “These bikes and their precious cargo are literally saving lives every day. My huge thanks to them for riding at all hours and in all conditions to make sure that those in need have the blood they require.”
Maria Burn, Pre-Analytic Manager Pathology at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals was there at the outset. “When two guys walked in and spelled out how they wanted to help it was hard to fathom how something we had paid so much for, over so many years, might now be done for nothing.
“But that is exactly what happened. Other hospitals were a little sceptical too, but when I explained how it had helped us they quickly got on board with it,” she said.
“The blood bikers are just phenomenal. There is a real difference between this charity and some others as there are no paid members of staff at all.”
Donations help keep the service running, and some generous donor groups have even funded the cost of purpose-built motorcycles to add to the Blood Bike fleet. Many riders simply use their own equipment and agree to work voluntary shifts for particular areas and times in order to maintain out of hours cover. Controllers handle hospital requests, and the calls are then logged with riders dispatched to pick up blood from one location to deliver to hospitals across the North West.
Mr Brooks said: “We are grateful to Maria for being so supportive – Preston and Chorley have been tremendous advocates since the start. We have a strong relationship with this Trust as well as many other hospitals and trusts across the region.
“Because of the nature of what we do everything is classed as ‘urgent’ and our riders know how to get the job done safely and swiftly,” he explained.
Pressure on the service has grown in recent months with Covid test results and specialist equipment to aid Covid patients moved by the blood bikers, but despite these challenges and the pandemic’s impact on volunteers and their families, service quality standards have been maintained throughout.
“We are all in this together. That has been the approach from the outset and will continue to be how we operate,” added Chairman John Garnett. “We know people rely on us so we will just press on because it is a service that is clearly needed; I don’t think it will take another nine years for the next 100,000.”