Supporting the National Health Service

A BRIEF History of Blood Bikes Wales

We haven’t always been here. Below we give you an insight in what brought us as a charity together and where the concept of Blood Bikes came from. 

 

THE Start of it all

Blood Bikers may trace their origins back to the foundation of two groups in the 1960s. In the early part of that decade Margaret Ryerson and her husband formed Surrey’s Emergency Volunteer Service to put riders’ love of motorcycling to practical use supporting hospitals.

By 1969, Des Gibbons had created the Freewheelers youth community action group providing a similar hospital transport service serving Stevenage’s Lister Hospital, the Luton & Dunstable Hospital, Hitchin Hospital and maternity unit and two Bedford hospitals.

 

Those two original groups are no longer in existence, but the baton passed to other groups that have spread across the UK, many still bearing the SERV and Freewheelers names in honour of their forebears.

The start of Blood Bikes Wales.

Having been inspired by an episode of Emergency Bikers, a group of us had their first meeting in 2011 to discuss establishing a service in the Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board area. It took some time to arrange the logistics, train riders, acquire a fleet of bikes etc but in April 2013 Blood Bikes Wales completed our first live shift.

Some of our founder members are still with the charity and tell of filling up the tank or paying for the MOT out of their own pocket on bikes they purchased second hand from other Blood Bike groups. Others describe how they slept in the back of a van or travelled considerable distances just to make sure they were available for duty. But they created a legacy for us to build upon and we have come a long way since.

Growing into the charity we are today

We started across the south first

Over the next couple of years Blood Bikes Wales grew steadily across the south, mid and west Wales.  We set up bases in Cwmbran, Llantrisant, Swansea, Carmarthen, Pembroke, Aberystwyth and Llandrindod Wells.

Moving North

Then in 2016 our groups in north Wales were established in the north west (Bangor) and north east (Wrexham) expanding our volunteer service across the whole of Wales and encompassing Betsi Cadwaladr UHB. This made Blood Bikes Wales the largest Blood Bike group by area and with nearly 400 members, 24 bikes and no paid staff possibly one of the largest all-volunteer charities in the country.

In 2023-24 our fleet covered over 388,000 miles at no cost to the NHS.  To date we have fulfilled nearly 40,000 jobs.

One Massive Team across the UK

Blood Bikes Wales is only one part of a network of more than 30 similar volunteer groups across the UK and Ireland, most of whom are affiliated with the Nationwide Association of Blood Bikes (NABB) that represents the blood bike movement collectively. We use this network to transport items quickly and efficiently from one end of the country to the other.

Many people we speak to are not aware that we are all volunteers and question why the NHS needs us at all.  We don’t replace existing NHS courier services, but we do augment them, often taking on the smaller jobs that it would be impractical or costly for a health board to complete.

Chairman’s Remarks on our History

 It’s difficult to estimate how much money we save the NHS as each health board uses our services in a different fashion depending upon its needs. We also assist other charities such as Northwest Milk Bank to collect and distribute donated human milk to neonatal intensive care units.  If we were not there, a hospital might use an ambulance, pay a courier or even a taxi to complete the task, all of which impact on its service or cost money that would be better spent on caring for patients. Costs will vary but one such courier service in one health board is paid £2 per mile; on that basis we probably save the NHS in Wales about £1m. each year.

The treatment of a new born baby required the transfer of a sample from Wrexham to UHW Cardiff which would have cost the NHS £700-£800 next day delivery. As it was, we made the transfer the same day.  The sample was tested and the treatment ready first thing in the morning.

The cost? Nothing, nada, gratis, absolutely nowt. And that is a very nice thing to tell a hard working nurse.

Our Response to COVID19

During the pandemic, we increased our services across Wales to better support the NHS while it dealt with COVID19 and saving lives. 

We had never been busier than this, and the proof is in the stats. In April 2020 Blood Bikes Wales completed over 500 jobs – the most we have ever done in one month. 

The pandemic has passed but our workload continues to grow.