Recently, I signed up as a Blood Bikes Scotland volunteer and after some onboarding, I undertook my first shift. I had been thinking of volunteering for a few years, but finally took the plunge last year after being approached by a local rep at an IAM meet-up. It felt like a worthwhile cause, a good use of my advanced biking skills and a great way to get out and do more biking.
Have you thought about volunteering as a Blood Biker? Have you ever wondered what it is like? Read on if you’d like to find out more about what Blood Biking involves and how my first shift went.
What are Blood Bikers?
Blood Bikers provide a free-of-charge transport service to the NHS run by volunteers in their own time. They deliver small urgent items between NHS sites or to patients’ homes in the community. The service runs in all weathers and supports teams in primary and secondary care including GPs, District Nurses, Care Homes, and Community Hospitals.
This service is 100% run by volunteers and is reliant upon charitable donations and the free time offered by members. It can save the cash-strapped NHS a lot of money and help the day-to-day running of care the NHS provides, which ultimately helps patients in need.
Do you carry blood then?
Some Blood Biker groups do carry blood, but not all do. Blood Bikes Scotland doesn’t, other services already cover that here. Nonetheless, there are many other important items that need delivering, for example, medicines, test samples, paperwork, and patient personal effects.
Do I deliver on my own motorbike?
Within some Blood Biker groups, riders will volunteer their own motorcycle for delivering items. However, Blood Bikes Scotland has their own fleet of motorcycles and cars which volunteers use. These are fully liveried up with Hi-Vis and have suitable luggage to transport items. Currently, Blood Bikes Scotland is running BMW RT1250s, but is trialling some Yamaha MT09 Tracers. For when the weather is pants, which is common up here in Scotland, they have a car you can opt to take out instead.
Will I need to do blue-light runs?
No. Blood bikers do not undertake any deliveries so urgent to require blue-light runs. Additionally, Blood Bikers are not trained to perform such high-speed runs on public roads. All deliveries Blood Bikers undertake are less time sensitive and can be undertaken within usual speed limits.
Can I sign up too?
Yes! Blood Biker groups are always looking for additional volunteers. Riders will need to have passed their IAM Advanced test or similar RoSPA test.
However, there are ‘controller’ roles available too. Controllers remain at home, accept incoming job requests then relay these to riders on duty. They also provide assistance as needed, e.g. if a destination cannot be found etc.
When do I need to work?
Available shifts are put up on an online system, where one can sign-up for the days that suit them. You’re typically asked to enrol on a shift at least once a month. Blood Bikers Scotland has recently ramped up the days they offer to now cover 6-days a week, including Saturday and Sunday, so there is plenty of choices to fit shifts in around your other commitments. Shifts run 10am to 6pm on weekdays and 10am to 5pm on weekends.
What’s a typical shift like?
My first shift with Blood Bikes Scotland went like this:
I picked up the Blood Bike a little before the shift started and ran through some initial pre-ride checks (you’re typical POWDERS stuff) and confirmed all kit needed was present. I then parked up at Forth Valley Hospital and waited for my first job to come in.
Soon enough the controller rang through with a job and SMS’d the details of what to pick up, where from and where to deliver to. My first job was picking up some paperwork records from a community hospital and delivering them to the hospital pharmacy – a nice and simple run. Admin-wise, there are sheets to get filled with signatures and regular SMS updates to the controller, all very straightforward.
This was followed by a couple of jobs delivering medicines to patients who had been discharged from the hospital before they were ready. A very common occurrence when beds desperately need to be freed up, but medicines are not yet ready for patients to take with them. It may seem trivial, but freeing up a bed sooner, can get subsequent patients in and bring further waiting patients stuck outside in ambulances into the hospital.
After a lunch break in the hospital canteen, I had a priority sample delivery from the Forth Valley hospital labs to the Gartnavel Hospital blood transfusion centre. A longer run into the busy city centre of Glasgow, but not anything to phase an ex-London commuter! The biggest issue was the BMW’s built-in Garmin GPS was unaware of all the recent roadworks and closures in Glasgow, causing me to take a slightly convoluted route and then dump me at the other end of the destination road where there is only pedestrian access to the hospital… And similarly on the return, finding my way back onto the A8 where half the slip roads were shut. Note to self, next time I’ll be using Google Maps on my phone with live traffic info before going into Glasgow again.
The day finished with another medicine drop off locally in Falkirk, which proved trickier having not the local knowledge that flat 1-2, is actually floor 1, flat 2, and not flat 12 on the ground floor… Whoops!
Is it enjoyable?
Blood biking is an interesting challenge. OK, there’s no spirited riding around the twisties. Rather, chilled-out city riding and good use of your navigation skills. Finding your way about is definitely a big part of the job, but the controller is always on hand to support you there too. It also felt good to do some inner city riding again, surprising how much I missed it!
It’s fun to see how other drivers react to you riding past on a fully liveried BMW with me in hi-vis and white lid! Though, quite a few did suddenly slam their brakes on and drive stupidly slow when they see you behind, which does get frustrating.
On the job you deal with many people, NHS staff, patients and random folk as you seek directions, and those just interested in what you’re doing. Everyone is super friendly and appreciative of the work you’re doing, it’s always good to know you’re doing something that is helping others, no matter how minor it may be.
So, what are you waiting for? If you have time you can donate and an advanced RoSPA test pass, why not look up your local Blood Bike group and see if you can volunteer. It’s a worthy cause and a great excuse to do more biking at the same time!