Northumbria Blood Bikes (NBB) is a charitable organisation established by local volunteers to deliver essential blood and urgent medical supplies, out of hours, between hospitals and healthcare sites and laboratories in North East England. Work to establish the group started in September 2012, and the team of dedicated volunteers, with support from the Nationwide Association of Blood Bikes and member groups, began live operations in February 2014. Here Fleet Manager talks to NBB’s publicity officer Richard Penna (who, in his day job, is group logistics manager for Greggs PLC) about the charity’s invaluable work and how its fleet operates...
Why was Northumbria Blood Bikes (NBB) established?
NBB was established to advance health and save lives in Northumbria, by providing a volunteer courier service ancillary to transport provided by the statutory authorities for the transfer of blood, blood products and other medical resources between hospitals and medical facilities.
Northumbria Blood Bikes is dependent on charitable donations from the public, sponsorship and events. It is solely run by volunteers, giving their own free time to run and deliver the service who work 7pm to 7am, 365 days a year including all day at weekends and bank holidays. In December 2015, we clocked up our 5,000th job for hospitals and the air ambulance since going live in January 2014!
How does NBB work with the NHS?
Outside normal office hours, when hospital internal courier services are not available, hospitals have to rely on taxis or couriers to transfer urgent medical supplies or test samples between hospitals and other sites. Northumbria Blood Bikes and indeed Blood Bike groups, across the country, seek to carry out this service free of charge, ensuring the limited resources of the NHS can be used where it makes a difference. Indeed, thousands of pounds are saved in taxi and courier costs - which can be re-invested into patient care, equipment, extra nurses etc.
In critical situations, blood, platelets, patient notes, samples and equipment often need to be delivered urgently in order to save a patient’s life. Blood bikes, with our distinctive livery, emergency lights, and narrow profile, can quickly get through busy traffic reaching the destination sooner.
We also have established the Blood on Board (BoB) project in conjunction with the Great North Air Ambulance Service. This involves the delivery of blood, daily, to each of the two Great North Air Ambulance helicopters, to enable blood transfusions at the scene of an accident instead of waiting until the patient reaches a hospital. By the end of 2015, eight lives have been saved as a direct result of this project.
What type of vehicles are used and do they have any special adaptations to carry the blood?
NBB volunteers don’t ride their own bikes, they ride bikes owned by the charity.
Currently the NBB bike fleet consists of: Two Yamaha FJRs, four Honda ST1300 Pan Europeans and three Triumph Trophies. These are tourer type motorcycles designed to be ridden for extended periods and distances, that offer some protection from the worst of the weather and which have reasonable luggage capacity. Motorcycles are great for negotiating traffic congestion due to their filtering ability. They also have better fuel economy, keeping costs down.
Blood and blood products such as platelets are packed inside special insulated boxes and these are then secured to a special rack on the bike. The boxes are designed to maintain the temperature of the load during transportation. Our bikes also have panniers where samples can be transported along with non-temperature sensitive items such as instruments or documentation.
Motorcycles cannot currently carry live blood when the temperature is at or below three degrees Celsius, so a blood car will be used. Cars are also used if conditions are unsafe and also for attending fundraising or publicity events, sometimes towing an exhibition trailer. We run three cars: A Skoda Yeti, a Vauxhall Mokka, and a Renault Kangoo, plus one exhibition trailer. The Mokka was supplied to us through the Henry Surtees Foundation, helping us to decrease response times.
How many volunteers work with NBB and do volunteers undergo any specialist training to ensure high standards of safety?
We currently have 348 members. Of this number there are 33 shift controllers, 88 riders, 46 drivers and 87 fundraisers who are all qualified in a role. All riders and drivers need to have held a full licence for two years and have relevant rider or driver qualifications (e.g. having passed the Institute if Advanced Motorists test). Through our rigorous training requirements, we are putting safer riders onto the roads, with many riders having taken advanced rider training and slow riding technique training.
All volunteers also receive GMP Blood Handling training and are trained to use ‘blue lights’ in emergencies. We are lucky to have reported no driving or riding incidents since the group started. Tracking devices are fitted to all vehicles which alert on speed infringements.
We always promote the positive image of motorcycling, hopefully changing people’s perceptions and allowing them to see riders in a more positive light.
Where are the cars kept?
Our drivers will be ‘on call’ several times each month through the winter months, and they take possession of the NBB car, for the time that they are on call, so that they can respond immediately to a request for assistance.
If you would like to support Northumbria Blood Bikes in any way you can find out more at www.northumbriabloodbikes.org.uk
You can also find out more about Blood Bike groups in your area by visiting