This post has been written by LincsGeek, who is a rider for Lincolnshire Emergency Blood Bikes (LEBBS). It’s something you’ve requested after seeing the blood bike in my vlogs, so I asked him to guest post here on Splodz Blogz to share what Blood Bikes are and what it’s like to be a Blood Biker. If you have any questions about it please fire away in the comments below and I’ll get LincsGeek to come and answer them.
Before I get in to what I do as a rider, I’ll first briefly explain what blood bikes are.
The concept of blood bikes has been around for decades, with the aim of transporting essential medical items between hospitals and other healthcare sites free of charge. Out of normal working hours the NHS often has to rely on couriers, taxis or, as a last resort, ambulances to move items between hospitals. By offering a service that can do this free, and quickly, that money can be better used within the health service. A blood bike can also often get through traffic more quickly than other vehicles, meaning test results or drugs can be provided for patients to faster. The National Association of Blood Bikes (NABB) has a map showing the areas that groups cover, and also has some more detail on why the service exists.
This video isn’t specifically about LEBBS, but it does give a good overview of what blood bikers do:
Becoming a Blood Biker
As I say, I’m a rider but there are also committee members, controllers and fundraisers, all of whom are essential to providing the service, and some people undertake more than one role. Everyone is a volunteer – nobody is paid anything for what they do in LEBBS. As far as riders go, people have different jobs, different hobbies, different situations, but the one thing we all share is a love of riding motorcycles and a desire to help.
To become a rider with LEBBS you first need a full (unrestricted) motorcycle licence and to hold an advanced riding qualification, such as with the IAM or RoSPA. I’ve had a full licence for 13 years and passed my IAM test a year or so after that, so the next stage was to undergo checks with the Disclosure and Barring Service. Finally, before I could volunteer for the rota and start riding for the group, I attended a training day covering how everything works in practice, the handling of blood and other products and a check ride to make sure my riding was still up to standard.
Each month, I let the rota manager have my availability for the shifts needed in the following month. LEBBS offers its service from 7pm on Friday to 7am Monday, plus any public holidays. Riders (and controllers) typically volunteer for either the weekend night shifts or the weekend day shifts, and each rider is on call for 12-hours at a time. During the week, the person with a bike is responsible for getting it to the next rider who needs it. Although riders are officially only on call at the weekend, if I happen to have the bike during week (before handing it over to the next rider or having received it ready for my shift) and a hospital has an urgent need to get something transported, I might get a call to see if I can cover it.
I volunteer for day, rather than night, shifts because if I were to be out on a call in the early hours of Monday morning I would be in no fit state to go to work at 8am.
In some blood bike groups riders use their own motorbikes, but in LEBBS the bikes are owned by the group and most of the operational bikes on LEBBS’ fleet are Honda NT700 Deauvilles. The bikes are marked up with hi-vis and yellow/orange battenburg to make them stand out, and have specially constructed racks that can carry the standard size organ/blood transport boxes. Each bike has a tracker fitted to it, which means its location (and speed!) can be checked at any time. The bikes are also fitted with blue lights, but they can only be used if authorised by a doctor in an emergency, and in practice the use of them is extremely rare. I can’t say that I find the Deauville particularly exciting to ride, and I wouldn’t choose one as my own machine, but it does the job well and is very reliable.
The blue lights are only to aid visibility and warn other road users of the presence of a motorbike transporting emergency items, but we have no exemptions to laws – we are not allowed to break the speed limit, to go through red traffic lights, or to go to the right of a keep left sign, for example. Despite all the markings on the bike, and the hi-vis “Emergency Blood” jackets worn by riders, there are some drivers that still do not see us (or choose to ignore us). I’ve been cut up at roundabouts and pulled out on by drivers emerging from a junction whilst I’m riding a blood bike, just as happens to all motorcyclists. It’s important to ride as if the markings and hi-vis make no difference, and watch out for the hazards you normally would when riding your own bike.
When I receive the bike from the previous rider I run through a set of standard checks covering the bike and the equipment we carry, and then complete an electronic form confirming the checks, noting the tyre depths and logging any faults.
Depending on the controller, I normally get a text or call at 7am or just before. It’s just to check that I and the bike are both OK and ready for any calls that come in. For the next 12 hours I can’t leave home unless it’s on a blood bike call. Occasionally I can go a whole day on shift without getting a call; whilst it’s frustrating in some ways – being stuck at home and not able to do anything that I can’t stop immediately – I wouldn’t want to wish that somebody was injured or unwell enough to need our services!
A member of staff at the hospital who needs us will call a phone number that gets diverted to the shift controller. The controller takes all of the details and logs them, and then calls me, the rider, with details on where I need to go and any other important information. I then get kitted up and head out to the pick-up location. It could be to transport any medical item, including blood, plasma, platelets, biological samples, donated breast milk or even medical notes. Sometimes we are told a little about a patient’s situation, but often we don’t know anything other than what we’re taking where, and of course we never know the identity of any patients.
Common calls include taking blood samples from Lincolnshire hospitals to the National Blood Service centre in Sheffield, moving samples between local hospitals for different tests, urgent drugs transfers between local hospitals and collecting urgent drugs from one of the large hospitals outside the county.
After making the collection, it’s straight back on the road. I then do my best to make good progress to the destination, but making sure I and the cargo are safe. It’s important to get the balance right between getting something to its destination to help a patient in urgent need of care, and getting it there safely. There’s no point taking risks that put me or the items I’m carrying in danger, and end up needing hospital treatment myself; not only would I have made the situation worse for somebody else who I was supposed to be helping, but it would be embarrassing if I ended up needing the services of a blood biker myself whilst on a call. We rely on motorbikes generally being more nimble and able to get through traffic than other vehicles, meaning we can transport items quickly without breaking laws. Depending on what I’m carrying and where it’s going, I might need to deliver the item(s) to a reception or straight to a ward.
Once I’ve made the drop-off and completed the small amount of paperwork, then assuming there isn’t another call to immediately go to I head back home, refueling the bike before I get there ready for another call. Thanks to LEBBS fundraisers and generous donators, the group now has enough money to be able to issue fuel cards for each bike so that I don’t have to pay for the fuel myself.
Once home, I wait for the next call or if it’s already gone 7pm I know I’ve finished for the day and have dinner.
The final decision on whether it’s safe to respond to a call rests with the rider. I have never had to turn down a call, and I don’t imagine many riders have. The only scenario I can imagine in which I would have to say I couldn’t respond to a call is if the roads are covered in snow or ice, which fortunately doesn’t happen much. I ride in the pouring rain and strong winds and if you won’t do that then being a blood biker isn’t for you – you can’t say you won’t ride just because it’s unpleasant weather – as long as it’s not dangerous you go. LEBBS also has three cars on the fleet, including a RAV4, so in all but the very worst weather the British winter throws at us there is normally a way of staying on the road.
To give you a flavour of a typical weekend, my four most recent runs were, briefly:
Pickup of drugs from a local hospital 30 miles away, and then a ride of 35 miles in the increasingly heavy rain to another local hospital to drop them off. On arrival at the destination a porter was ready to take them straight to the ward because a patient needed them as soon as possible.
Having finished the above run, there was another immediate pick up from where I’d dropped off and then ride 25 miles to another hospital in the county. These were drugs I took directly to the ward where are doctor had prescribed them for immediate injection. The rain had got even heavier, and I left puddles everywhere I stood in the hospital. That hospital doesn’t have a café open at weekends, so I had a hot chocolate from a vending machine, dripped on the floor some more and rode back home in the rain.
Collection of specialist drugs from Leicester Royal Infirmary. I first collected a request/authorisation letter from the on-call pharmacist at a local hospital, then rode the 60 miles to Leicester. Finding somewhere to park a car at this one would have taken quite some time, but riding a motorbike meant not only was I able to filter through city-centre traffic to save time, but I was able to park the bike close to the entrance and out of the way of people and ambulances. I found the on-call pharmacist, collected the drugs, then rode straight back and delivered them directly to the ward where they were needed urgently so save someone’s eyesight.
Transport of a blood sample from one local hospital direct to pathology lab at another local hospital for tests. It was raining when I set off on this one, but had stopped by the time I reached the pathology lab so it was a nice ride home at a balmy 5-degrees C.