19 Dec 2019
Blood Bikes Wales was awarded the Organisation of the Year Award at WCVA Welsh Charities Award event in November. Fiona Liddell, WCVA’s Helpforce Cymru Manager, met with Nigel Ward, Chair of Blood Bikes Wales Chair, to find out more.
How it began
The Blood Bikes movement began in London in the
1960s. 'It was recognised' said Nigel 'that the fastest way
to negotiate traffic was by motorbike. Sometime hospitals do not
have the right blood for a patient's blood type, or they have the
right blood in the wrong place. That is where Blood Bikes Wales can
In 2010, a small group of bikers from Wales met the Nationwide
Association of Blood Bikes at an exhibition stand and was inspired
to take things further. After discussion in a Cardiff pub about
whether and how this could work in Wales, £10,000 was raised, bikes
obtained from other Blood Bikes groups, volunteers recruited and
trained, charity registration sorted and procedures put in place.
Health Boards were approached with a view to establishing a service
Two years later Blood Bikes Wales was
up and running, beginning in Swansea and soon spreading to other
parts of Wales, with the latest (the eighth) group being launched
in Powys in September 2019.
Blood Bikes Wales works to nationally agreed standards for riding
and training and offers a service that is free to the NHS. The NHS
has its own courier service and the Blood Bikes service complements
What volunteers do
Volunteers take on one of two operational roles: riders and
controllers, but behind every bike is a team comprised of
fundraisers, trainers, administrators etc. In Wales there are more
than 50 controllers and around 100 riders - including men and
Controllers take referrals from NHS and liaise with volunteer
riders. An online rota is drawn up for scheduled assignments and
on-call cover. The progress of individual jobs is tracked to ensure
they are fulfilled in a safe and timely manner.
Riders transport not only blood, but also x-rays, medication and
breastmilk as required. For long journeys a relay approach is
taken, sometimes involving coordination between several Blood Bikes
groups to get across the country. Wales blood bikers covered
275,000 miles last year, or 5,000 miles per week.
Fundraisers play a crucial role in organising events and
encouraging public donations and corporate sponsorship - all of
which sustains the work.
Making a difference
'Not every hospital has a pharmacy and not every pharmacy has all
the medicine that is needed. We are asked to transport medication,
and sometime the need is urgent' said Nigel Ward.
'We also assist on-call GPs who determine that a patient, often
housebound is in urgent need of medication. This will make a
difference between helping the patient to feel better at home or
being admitted to hospital with a worsening condition.'
In West Wales blood bikers do a 'chemo run' every week. 'Chemo
therapy needs to be tailored for each session, according to
the patient's blood chemistry' said Nigel 'patients would
have bloods taken on a Monday and then appropriate treatment would
be prepared for them. Patients could be waiting for several hours
and the chemotherapy treatment itself can have unpleasant side
'After discussion with the Health Board, Blood Bikes Wales has
helped to devise a better system. Patients visit their GP on a
Friday morning to have bloods taken. A volunteer rider collects
samples from a number of surgeries and takes them to the lab where
they are analysed. By the time the patient visits the hospital
clinic on Monday, the results are back and the treatment is
Sometimes the best option for newborn babies is the natural
one. Generous nursing mothers express breast milk and
donate this to a milk bank, where it is screened and prepared,
ready for distribution to where it is needed. Blood
bikers collect donated milk from individuals' homes and deliver it
to milk banks and they take milk from milk banks to the neo natal
intensive care units where it is needed.
'One new mother, who was a cancer survivor, was unable to feed her
newborn baby herself. Within an hour of a phonecall, the milk bank
had a feeding plan arranged for her' said Nigel.
'Another new mum recently fell ill and had to go into hospital,
leaving father and baby at home. Blood bikers were able to take
expressed milk from her back home to the baby for a few days, until
she had fully recovered.
'Human milk banks are often charities themselves. They would have
to pay a courier were it not for the free service offered by Blood
Sometimes Blood bikers are asked to carry unusual items - all
medical and all important. 'We were asked once to carry
specialized surgical equipment 100 miles across Wales and to wait
while an operation was completed and the item sterilized before
bringing it back. It was the only one of its kind in the
country!' said Nigel.
'We have carried titanium pins for hip operations to a hospital 60
miles away. Without this, the scheduled operation would have been
Challenges and developments
The organisation has grown rapidly. There are no paid staff and
decisions are made by a committee comprising representatives from
each area group. 'It is a challenge to make the best use of our
time in meetings and to make decisions in an inclusive but
efficient way' said Nigel.
The use of social media is another challenge. 'Members need to be
careful about what they post and always to be mindful of the
reputation of the organisation. Reputation is everything'
Looking forward, Blood Bikes Wales aspires to reduce the time it
takes for new volunteers to get trained and ready to start.
Nigel said 'we aim to have new volunteers on board within two
months'. The demand for Blood Bikes is growing and this will give
rise to new organisational and logistical challenges in the
'Despite the challenges it is amazing how much we accomplish' said
Nigel. Volunteers are proud to be able to support the NHS in this
way; as one said 'I owe a lot to the NHS, personally and in the
past for family. There is also a selfish reason...,, having to ride
in all weathers keeps me on my toes and hopefully keeps my riding
skills honed!'. 'The reward comes from knowing you have made
a difference, saved someone's life or just made them more
comfortable' said another volunteer.
Case study written by Helpforce Cymru. Helpforce is working
with Third Sector Support Wales (WCVA and 19 County Voluntary
Councils) and other partners to develop the
potential of volunteering in health and social care