Volunteers stand outside on a sunny day in front of a motorbike holding signs

Blood Bikes Wales: supporting the NHS through COVID-19

Published: 16/07/20 | Categories: Uncategorised, Author: Nigel Ward

Since we last spoke to Welsh Charity Awards winners Blood Bikes Wales, the COVID-19 pandemic has made unprecedented demands on the charity’s ability to adapt and respond through the crisis.  Nigel Ward, Chair of Blood Bikes Wales explains.

Getting ready – how best to help?

March was a month of preparation and readiness.  Our PR schedule was scrapped, as were plans for fundraising activities throughout the summer when we generate most of our income.

Face to face meetings were abandoned and, like most organisations, we took to using the internet.  The charity introduced new protocols for our riders, to reduce contact and cross-contamination.  Welsh gin companies such as the Gower Distillery helped us by providing hand sanitiser to keep on our bikes.

In conversations with local health boards we started to discuss how we could best help in the forthcoming crisis.  It was decided, in consultation with Welsh Government, not to expend our resources on the delivery of prescriptions from community pharmacies, as we could be better used elsewhere.

The message to our volunteers in March was, essentially this

‘We have the training to handle whatever the NHS needs to be transported and get it from A to B as quickly and safely as possible. We have the processes and resources to accomplish this in response to just a phone call request.

It is vitally important, especially just now, that our unique resources are used in the most effective way to help our NHS to the best of our considerable abilities.

As trained volunteers, you will be eager to get involved and help but please, be patient. Conversations are taking place at a local and national level with our NHS contacts. They are aware of our capabilities and over the next few months, our NHS will need all the help they can get.’

Responding to increased needs

April saw our services start to ramp up, with a doubling of the number of volunteer riders scheduled on the duty rota, in most areas.

More riders were introduced for several health boards to enable transportation of fast track COVID-19 samples throughout the whole week, especially in the Aneurin Bevan Health Board area.  This was only made possible by many of our working volunteers being furloughed from their normal, paid employment.

Collaboration with Blood Bikes groups in England saw our Powys blood bikers take on the transport of hospital pharmacy prescriptions to addresses in mid Wales.  A recent urgent relay in June involved Blood Bikes groups in Wrexham, Merseyside & Cheshire and Manchester working together in a 3-way operation.

Breaking all records

In the last few months, our charity has rocketed through 16000, 17000, and now more than 18000 total deliveries since it was founded 10 years ago.  April was busy with 530 jobs but May saw our busiest month on record with 696 jobs completed – every single one free to our NHS.

Our fleet in total covered over 44,000 miles, yet thanks to the generosity of BP who donated over 2200 litres of fuel, our fuel bill was half what it could have been.

In June, we completed another 813 jobs.  This is an incredible total and another record-breaking month.  It just goes to show the additional demand that the current situation is placing on the NHS , and by extension, on ourselves.  The south is a little quieter just now but our volunteers in north Wales are being kept extremely busy by the screening program for care homes.

Business as usual continues, too

In addition to all the COVID-19 effort, there is the ‘business as usual’ to consider.  Our routine and ad hoc service for hospitals across Wales continues.

Last week saw the transport of a sample from Morriston to Great Ormond Street hospitals. This involved two other volunteer Blood Bike groups, making a journey that by private courier would have cost a 4-figure sum.

This week saw the transport of tissue samples for donor matching between a hospital in north Wales and hospitals in Liverpool and Manchester, again involving two other volunteer Blood Bike groups and again, absolutely free of charge.

Financial resilience

Good governance by our trustees has ensured that the charity has sufficient financial reserves to cope with the unexpected. By ‘unexpected’ we might have anticipated the cessation of funds from a major donor, but a global pandemic has had the same impact.

In normal circumstances we like our fundraising to be a constant activity so that our daily operating expenditure does not eat into our reserves.  Even a pandemic like COVID-19 will not completely stop money from coming in, however. Donors continue to be generous.  But it will have a major impact, undoubtedly. We are keeping a careful eye on our reserves and we may need to modify some of our expenditure for the coming year.

All of our volunteers have contributed to making Blood Bikes Wales what it is – capable of this amazing concentrated effort at a time when our NHS needed us the most.

Ready for next time

As the NHS starts to scale back to more normal activity, so we will review the contribution we are making and adjust our services accordingly.

But we may need to do this again. Unfortunately, further waves of COVID-19 are expected and our NHS may still need us to help. With the evidence of the dedication of so many volunteers and donors over the last few months, I’m confident that we will be ready.

This piece was prepared 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 services.