Night life on two wheels, or, Have you ever wondered what happens to your donated blood?
When I was at School, the thought of riding a motorbike was never close at hand. Something to do with mother’s (matron) concern having seen the result of too many accidents when she worked as Senior Sister at A&E. However, time and circumstances (left school, work etc) mellowed the issue and it came to pass that I passed my test and bought a bike. Not happy with a ‘250cc’ I upgraded to a ‘750cc’ machine within a couple of years.
As well as being an easy way of getting into during a rail strike (my reasoning for taking my test) it is also fun as other OR’s who are bikers will attest too.
A few months further on and I was wondering around a bike show and passed a stand for ‘Blood Runners’. A few questions answered, I became aware that they are a voluntary organisation who take a duty rota from 7pm to 7am every day of the year (all day on Bank Holidays) and their task is to relieve the NHS of the cost and burden of using taxis or otherwise busy ambulances, to transfer blood, platelets or samples either from the national blood bank (the nearest in Kent is Tooting in London) to any of the Kent hospitals – or vice versa.
Some training (how to look after the blood/samples etc) and some route awareness (planned routes must be followed in case of breakdown while on a call) and duty nights arrived. Calls can come in at any time of the night sending a rider off to a hospital or a rendezvous. Some calls are simple collection and pass to another rider at a pre-ordained mid-point or deliver to the hospital concerned. Others are slightly more ‘urgent’. Of the sixty plus calls I have been on since I started only one has been a ‘red run’. Normal calls are such that there is enough time to get from A to B within the ‘rules’ (although the Police are aware of the service and tend to look favourably on riders as long as the conditions are good and they are not being too excessive – we don’t have flashing blue lights on our cars/bikes). Red runs are typically a little more urgent – ‘as quickly as you can please’ but still within the rules of the road. Blood Runners are not permitted to break the speed limits or cross red lights – but at 3am there is far less traffic on the road so journey times are eased. All runs have time limits within which the delivery must be made. Longer runs for example Tooting to QEQM are split over the distance (North Kent and East Kent with a changeover at Medway Services).
So, back to the question – donated blood will be taken to the regional blood bank where it will be held until dispatch to the required hospital (which will always maintain its own supplies stock). During the day the NHS will deliver the supplied as part of the standard service. At night, SERV (Service by Emergency Rider Volunteers) kicks in up and down the country. All organisations fall under the umbrella of NABB (National Association of Blood Bikes) although the group in Kent is SERV-Kent (http://serv-kent.moonfruit.com/). Others include around the country go under the heading of Freewheelers or Whiteknights. Essentially all do it ‘for fun’ – riding on a moonlight night or just a warm summer evening is some of the best riding there is.
An example of the Tooting to QEQM would be a call received by SERV control at (say) 19.40hrs. Within five or six minutes the Surrey section has initiated the journey and identified the first rider – also advising the Kent section of the first change at Kings (a garage near Brands Hatch). Within twenty minutes of the first call – the two Kent riders are allocated – from Kings to Medway Services and the last leg – Medway Services to QEQM. The first change over is set at 21.00 (allowing Tooting time to prepare the blood and Surrey to get it to Kings) with the next being 21.30 at Medway Services. Then on for delivery to QEQM at around 22.15. Including the ‘odd’ mileage legs (for riders to get home) this equates to over 200miles – all of which is free. This would be a cab fare well in excess of £200 at night! There are five riders on each night and most nights – everyone gets a call, so that is quite a lot of NHS funds saved.
It is worth remembering that everyone gives of their time (and money) to be part of this. Most use their own bikes (or cars – if there are too many boxes to carry) and supply all their own kit (reflective jackets, magnets for cars and so on. There are no claiming back expenses. No petrol refunds. One or two groups have one or two branded bikes (it helps with advertising and raising awareness) but these are also a drain on the charity (SERV Kent charity number #284455) keeping them on the road. It is also worth noting that this is a 365-day a year operation on a voluntary basis – even bad weather will not stop it. When the last bout of snow hit, SERV mounted ‘white-cover’ where all duties were covered by regular ‘riders’ who also have access to 4×4’s. We then assisted in moving not only blood, platelets and samples but medical staff when needed.
The Old Roffensian Society has already kindly sponsored SERV for £1000 this year, for which SERV are immensely grateful. Hopefully you will never need the benefits of a Blood Runner. When my brother Michael Ratcliffe (OR) was severely ill in Hammersmith Hospital – runners were completing regular trips. I was not aware of this until many years later when I mentioned to mother (now ex-Matron) that I was taking it up as ‘hobby’. Only then did I find out about the hidden impact of what being a Blood Runner really is.
If anyone wants to volunteer to become a blood runner – http://www.bloodbikes.org.uk/ will direct you to your nearest organisation and they are always looking for more riders or controllers. Anyone wishing to donate (always gratefully received) can identify their nearest group on the same web site. For a company wishing to donate £1000 or more there is now the opportunity of having one of the brnaded bikes bearing your company details as the sponsor for the following year – together with further promotional opportunities.
And if you happen to be plying the motorways late in the evening and a bike comes by in a yellow & red fluorescent jacket (with a box or two on the back) – give a thought to the volunteer Blood Runners – wind, rain, snow or sun – they are there 365.
There is no way of knowing for certain when delivering a box of blood, just how much of a life saving situation you will have assisted in.
Every run is potentially life saving and there is nothing better than riding with a grin on your face and a purpose in your ride!
Andy Ratcliffe OR ‘77-‘87
Current bike: Triumph America shown in photos.