Overall there are 31 blood bike groups in GB enabling blood and other necessary products to be relayed from Land’s End to John O’Groats!
The Severn Freewheelers started at a meeting in Tewkesbury in 2006, subsequently forming using an adjacent group, the Bristol Freewheelers
operation, as a model. Funds had to be raised to buy their first bike which was a Honda Pan Euro ST1300 ex-Police Bike.
Severn Freewheelers went live in April 2007 with 50 volunteers, one bike, one coordinator and one rider.
Hospitals call a central number for this free service, though being free it took some time to gain trust from the hospitals.
First night of operation – no call; second night – no call; third night – happy days as calls start to come through. And, since April 2007, Severn Freewheelers has carried out in excess of 40,000 jobs and ridden over 1.5million miles.
The sevice was a success and the group grew buying three BMW RT1150s.
Now, there are four bikes available for use every night of the year operating between 7pm and 5am and in all weather conditions, though it is down to the rider to determine whether it is safe to ride or not.
Severn Freewheelers covers an area divided into four; Swindon Trust, Cheltenham & Gloucester, Worcester M5 to Redditch, Hereford and surrounding area.
In 2018, Severn Freewheelers rode 180,000 miles, performed 5,200 jobs of which 1,200 were for the Swindon Trust.
How does the service work?
Hospitals simply call a dedicated premium rate number between the hours of operation that diverts to a mobile phone of the on shift coordinator. The coordinator contacts the on shift rider for one of the areas noted and they work together, normally via text, to fulfil the job.
What do they carry?
All sorts of things that can fit into panniers or a motorcycle top-box.
Blood samples – eg from Savernake hosptial to GWH Pathology to Filton Hospital for cross
matching. Samples from John Radcliffe down to Southampton and Portsmouth.
The group often relay products between London and Bristol too.
Drugs courier – legal drugs of course! These are controlled drugs and to do this Severn Freewheelers must be approved which is done by GWH Path Lab.
Transport for Pharmacy – Tablet Take Out – TTO. It costs on average £1,000 per patient per
night for a stay in GWH. So, its better, cost wise at least, to have the patient at home. Pharmacies can’t always get the
tablets ready in time for discharge so rely on Severn Freewheelers to perform this duty –
typically the latest time for delivery is around 11pm.
Breast milk - premature babies mother’s are not yet ready to give milk. Milk is carried from
other mothers donations ie a modern day wet-nurse!
Funerary urn - One box that was carried between Bristol and Ipswich was an urn containing the ashes of a
loved one. The outer packaging said “This way up” on it. So, all sorts of packages are
Calls have to be prioritised based on Non-urgent (3), Urgent (2) or Emergency (1).
Blue lights are on the bike and can be used although does not mean a rider can speed. The group has not yet received a speeding ticket.
Geoff has completed over 1,000 jobs and only ridden on blue lights 3 or 4 times in the 11 years he’s been riding for Severn Freewheelers.
All riders have an Advanced Riders qualification earned in the last three years and is typically RoSPA. Before being let loose on the blood bike a rider must have a check ride. The check ride is not an Advanced test but more to check confidence as a confident rider is more able to manage risk.
There have been incidents within the group but nothing too serious. Bikes often get dropped and deer do get hit. The bikes are serviced and maintained by Police workshops.
All Severn Freewheeler bikes have trackers as an added safety feature.
Trackers record speed which does send an alarm back to the committee if limits are exceeded. Most riders ride well, although there are some complaints! Aren’t there always?
The bikes have Sat Navs fitted and riders often find themselves in the middle of nowhere in some rural location trying to find an address. But, Geoff nows knows all the shortcuts in Swindon so things are not all bad!
Being in the middle of nowhere can be great on a summer’s evening, but more challenging in winter.
The Severn Freewheelers is an expensive group to run with operating costs of around £60k per year. The bikes get through 30 sets of tyres each year and the bikes generally run between 70k – 80k miles before being replaced which means two bikes every year are replaced.
Petrol – able to get VAT back as VAT exempt.
Surprisingly, or not, there is no discount from the bike manufacturers! Very few bikes can be used as they have to be shaft or belt drive and have fairings so the choice is limited.
Funds are donated via corporate sponsorship. One year, the masons bought a bike for each group in GB at a cost of around £250,000. Some groups are known to use their own bikes and pay for their own fuel!
The perception of blood bikes is that they are part of the NHS, which they are not. Though this is a great accolade.
Thanks for a very enjoyable and informative talk Geoff.