They carry the gift of life to those in need – saving precious NHS time and money.
Shropshire, Staffordshire and Cheshire Blood Bikes (SSCBB) is an emergency volunteer service for the out-of-hours delivery of blood and other medical items, such as breast milk for premature babies and microbiological samples, using specially-equipped motorbikes.
It operates 24/7, providing emergency transport every night, at weekends and over bank holidays.
In the early hours of the morning when hospitals in Shropshire, Staffordshire and Cheshire urgently require blood, staff would have little choice but to call a taxi company to make the deliveries – costing up to £300 per trip.
But four years ago a group of volunteers stepped in, forming a charity which helps to save lives and NHS resources. And earlier this month it was announced that the group and its unsung heroes will now be honoured with a Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service – the highest honour given to volunteer groups across the UK.
The award was created by Her Majesty in 2002 to mark her Golden Jubilee and to recognise the outstanding contributions made to local communities by groups of volunteers. It has the same status for voluntary groups as the MBE has for individuals.
Blood biker Daz Coombs is the area lead for Shropshire and is just one of SSCBB’s 280 volunteers – which includes 70 advanced qualified riders who make the deliveries.
The 49-year-old, from Lightmoor, Telford, works as a training manager but also offers about 60 hours of his time each month to the charity after getting involved nearly a year ago.
His wife Heidie Coombs, 45, also volunteers her time as a controller, answering calls for help from hospitals and dispatching riders.
Mr Coombs said: “To have the ability to be able to turn a hobby into something which helps other people is phenomenal. It really is the silent emergency service.
“It gives you a sense of achievement. We are a massive family and everyone’s happy to help. To get the award is just amazing. It really gives it some belonging.”
In Shropshire, SSCBB serves Royal Shrewsbury Hospital, Telford’s Princess Royal Hospital, Bridgnorth Hospital, Ludlow Hospital, Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital near Oswestry, and Severn Hospice both in Telford and Shrewsbury.
Jeremy Cartwright, chairman of the group, says the charity has grown rapidly in four years. The 59-year-old, who lives in Uttoxeter and joined in 2016, said: “It’s great to get this recognition. We are absolutely thrilled.”
He said the charity responds to about 100 calls a week across the three counties. Riders covered more than 195,000 miles last year, making 4,693 deliveries. The charity also has its own fleet of 15 motorbikes. It must find more than £100,000 in funding each year to continue running, so fundraising is vital.
Another blood biker is Steve Hawkes, of Hednesford, who has been involved for more than three years and says it is an incredibly rewarding role. He said: “It gives you a great sense of pride and achievement knowing that you have helped somebody who is very poorly at a time when they need it the most.
“Getting the Queen’s Award is a huge honour for the group. It’s fantastic to be recognised at a level like that.” Recalling one of his jobs, Mr Hawkes said: “One delivery which stands out for me would be when a box of platelets, whose function is to stop bleeding, was needed at Queen’s Hospital in Burton, for a pregnant lady close to giving birth.
“She had a condition where her blood did not clot, so she could not go into labour. I collected the platelets from Birmingham and delivered them to Burton where a maternity nurse was waiting for me. Normally that would be it for us but on this occasion I was asked if I would like to meet the expectant mother. So I was taken into her room, where she was receiving the platelets, and we were able to have a short chat.
“I later found out that she had given birth to a perfectly healthy baby.”
Debbie Jones, support services care group director at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust, which runs PRH and RSH, said the charity is extremely important.
She said: “On a regular basis we need to transport samples urgently, between Shrewsbury and Telford, and also from here in Shropshire to Birmingham and beyond.
“In the past it has been quite difficult, out of hours, to get those samples moving quickly, so it has made a huge difference to us to be able to rely on blood bikes.
“There are certainly times when the quicker we can get results back, the better the outcome for the patient, so blood bikes are helping to save lives and, at the same time, they are saving the NHS lots of money.
“We very much appreciate all of their efforts.”
There are three different roles within the charity – riders, controllers and fundraisers.
For more information, or to find out how to join the organisation visit shropshireandstaffordshirebloodbikes.wordpress.com