Starting A New Blood Bike Group
We have been getting requests from people to join us but who live too far away. We are pleased to offer help to anyone who is thinking about starting their own group. Listed below are a few points to consider and if after reading and inwardly digesting them you are still sufficiently committed to set up a group then please contact us. We also encourage you to look at the NABB website (‘Nationwide Association of Blood Bikes‘). Carefully consider the points listed below and discussed in more detail on the rest of this page.
- What commitment can you and a few others make? Remember it is better not to start something than to not complete.
- What hours/times are you prepared to cover?
- Define your proposed area of operation and how you will generate publicity so that there is awareness of your service
- Decide upon the standards of service you intend to provide.
- Consider the membership of the group and the image you wish to portray.
- Consider where you will get funds, today, tomorrow, next year.
- Decide if you are going to have a “pool bike” or have riders use their own.
- Seek help and expertise and believe in what you want to do.
- Finally, the easy bit of registering for charity status; bank accounts; Health and Safety and meeting Trust standards; fund raising; maintenance; paperwork; communications; procedures; insurance etc.
Any service you intend to start may attract enthusiastic volunteers at the outset but interest may wane as time goes by, especially in the preparation and set-up phase if progress is not happening quickly enough. You also need to be sure that those who say they will do a duty are prepared to plan to do so. Any hospital trust will want to know that you are available when you say you will be. You also need to be aware that the commitment shown by volunteers will change over time. This can be for a number of reasons including changes at home or work, other hobbies and interests, or “burnout” following a long winter on duty! Some volunteers may not even be prepared to ride through the winter. You can help prevent this by being as clear as possible what is expected from both sides when people joint the charity. But please offer your volunteers support and understanding whatever their reasons. It is not unusual for volunteers to return after a period of rest, so don’t upset them unnecessarily.
Most hospital trusts have transport arrangements during the day. Existing Freewheelers (and similar) organisations operate during the unsocial hours when transport is expensive or virtually non-existent; that is normally 1900 to 0700 weekdays and 24 hours at weekends and on public/bank holidays.
Area of cover
Whatever you do you will not be able to do everything for everybody. Start by choosing your local NHS Trust and examining who and where they cover. How many satellite hospitals, nursing homes, psychiatric units, are likely to be able to call on your services? How far away are the adjacent NHS Trusts to whom your Trust may want you to fetch and carry? What specialist hospitals do they deal with that may need urgent or emergency transfers e.g. head or spinal injury or burns units. Where are your riders based? It may help if you get Contractor Status with a Trust and then it is easier to decide if the jobs requested fall within your parameters and those agreed with the Trust. You will want to contact every hospital in your area, plus other NHS organisations such as residential mental health units, to make them aware of your service. Many organisations will want to see evidence of your ability/intent to deliver a professional service. The easiest way to show this is a successful track record, so consider starting with a very limited scope of service for maybe six months, on the understanding that if the units are pleased then they will be expected to act as references when you wish to expand. Most units and many fundraising venues will insist on proof of public, and employee, liability insurance before they consider using you – consider joining another umbrella charity, Attend (https://www.attend.org.uk) to get these cheaply. Legally, in liability and Health and Safety terms, you will be an Employer and your volunteers, employees [albeit low-paid ones !] ; and also probably, informally, a sub-contractor to the hospitals ; so they may have reasonable liability concerns about being sued by your volunteers if something goes badly wrong.
Standards of service
The first thing you need to do is decide how you are going to operate. There are a number of questions you need to answer to do this:
- Will the group purchase and run a motorcycle or will riders use their own?
- Will group-owned bikes be kept at the rider’s home or in a central location such as a lock-up garage?
- Will riders be on duty for a week or just for one night? Consider the overheads of swapping group-owned bikes if duty is for shorter than one week.
- Who will co-ordinate and prioritise jobs? Will you arrange for a hospital switchboard to do this, leave it to the duty rider, or will you have your own duty co-ordinator to take calls from hospitals, prioritise the job then dispatch the appropriate rider?
- How will hospitals contact your group?
- How will co-ordinators or hospitals contact riders? In our experience most riders have a mobile phone and are happy to be contacted on them.
As an example, Freewheelers (Weston) has a duty co-ordinator who takes calls on the group’s 0300 number. This number is printed on all our material. It never changes but can be easily redirected to the co-ordinators home or mobile phone. The co-ordinator takes the call and records the time, pickup location, destination, priority and the type of the cargo. The co-ordinator then telephones the appropriate rider to give them the job details. Most importantly the co-ordinator also tracks and records the rider’s progress. Our rider will phone the co-ordinator to say he or she has dropped off at the destination and then again when the rider is safely home. You can find out more about the way we operate by looking at our service page. Next you will need to understand the class of service that you will offer in different circumstances. There are generally four job types and need to be understood by both yourself and the Trust. We would not suggest that a Trust would abuse the service but some staff may not fully understand what is on offer. Freewheelers (Weston) operates with the following categories:
- Non-urgent jobs such as moving items between hospitals where we commit to do the job at our convenience, but usually before the next working day.
- Urgent jobs are those where items are required at the destination by a set time. This may be by 0700 next day in time for a planned medical procedure or within a couple of hours so that they are available for nursing staff to care properly for a patient, or “as soon as possible” but not an emergency.
- Emergency jobs take priority. An example could be that a surgeon needs x-rays or notes to compare a patient’s condition between now and an hour ago, or a blood sample that needs urgent analysis. You should have clear and well-understood criteria for what justifies using this category (in Freewheelers EVS – either “there is risk to life” or a clinical member of staff has requested it). These jobs are fairly rare and involve an increased element of risk because riders may easily take unnecessary risks for “the noble cause”. If you intend to have vehicles fitted with blue lights and sirens, we suggest that they should only ever be used for this category of call.
- Jobs to politely decline are those which are outside your group’s remit. That may be due to timescales, geographical reasons, or often (for us) because there is no clinical need for the items – be they patients’ belongings (spectacles, slippers, even flowers!), mailshots or non-urgent items. You have to be prepared to draw the line somewhere, and these requests can be a drain on your resources and will mean a rider is unavailable should a more urgent job come through.
The key point here is knowing what you are offering and being sure you can deliver.
Membership of the group
Courier work is potentially dangerous especially on cold wet nights. We suggest membership, for riders, is limited to those holding valid and current advanced riding qualifications. This should reduce risk taking and accidents. Advanced motorcycle qualifications will also help you build a better relationship with the police and will cut your insurance costs. As mentioned in the section on commitment, volunteers may leave the group for any number of reasons. This turnover is natural, so you should always be looking to recruit and assess new riders. Even if a rider comes to you with the most sparkling set of qualifications, you should still make sure that he or she is suitable for membership of your group. Assign one of your members to assess all new riders. That way you can ensure you maintain a professional image, which should be an absolute priority, both to the NHS and other road users.
Fund raising is always a major issue and sponsors are hard to find. As a guide, we need over £25,000 a year to maintain 3 service bikes and two spare/fundraising bikes. Included in this figure is around £9000 so that we can replace the oldest bike every year. If you go for charity status then you will be able to boost your funding by reclaiming VAT on things like fuel and servicing. You will also benefit from Gift Aid, which will allow you to claim back 25% of every qualifying donation from Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs. Bear in mind that both of these have an administrative overhead and will require good organisation and a degree of extra commitment from your Treasurer. There is unlikely to be any funding from the NHS or from the National Lottery for running costs, although it may be possible to get a grant for capital items such as a bike. Funding can come from a number of sources. Freewheelers (Weston) get about half of our income from collections of cash at bike shows, local events and supermarket days. The rest of our funding comes from sponsorship and donations from individuals, bike clubs, local business and service clubs such as Lions or Rotary. As a charity performing such a noble task you may be able to get local business to provide essential services such as bike maintenance or insurance at a discount or even for free. Remember that members don’t always have to be riders. Equally valuable to the group are members who focus on fundraising. Arranging attendance at events, keeping your group visible in the press, and seeking sponsors are all valuable activities that a non-riding volunteer could do for you. Initial start-up costs may be high if you are going to buy a bike, but remember that there will be ongoing costs such as fuel, routine maintenance, tyres, bike insurance, and employer’s liability insurance. There will inevitably be unplanned costs such as breakdowns or even accidents. You will also need to plan to replace your machines on a regular basis. Freewheelers (Weston) replaces its bikes on a four-yearly cycle to ensure that the fleet does not become unreliable and therefore be likely to break down in the middle of an urgent job. We budget to replace one bike each year. Replacing a bike can be a great focus for fund-raising so don’t be shy about using local press or friendly sponsors to help raise the necessary money. Freewheelers (Weston) service is normally free, but we will charge hospitals at a non-profit rate of 33p per mile if we (decide and agree to) courier beyond our defined area e.g. carrying urgent items to hospitals in London or Birmingham. This charge only covers our costs but is still significantly less than the hospital would have to pay a commercial courier or taxi firm. Charging it also enables us to reclaim VAT – some other groups fulfil the VAT requirement of providing a chargeable product or service by charging their volunteers for e.g. a Handbook copy on joining.
Deciding on your means of transport involves considering whether to buy, maintain and care for a machine that will be ridden by many or to use your own machines. If your group owns your bike(s) there will be a cost involved in the group insuring them; if volunteers use their own bikes then they must ensure they have insurance which covers this use. Different insurers seem to have widely varying responses to this, from “OK, no extra charge” to (occasionally) “we cannot cover this”. How riders provide cover can be an issue too. Will riders have the group bike for a week or a night and how will they communicate issues? Freewheelers EVS riders do a half-week at a time. Many SERV groups do a single night on call, but they usually use their own bikes so there is no overhead of transferring a duty bike from one rider to another.
There are a lot of people around who may well help you. We suggest some of the key ones are:
- Your local head of traffic police – typically a chief inspector or superintendent. Bear in mind they can be ambivalent depending partly on how professionally you present your group and its aims
- Your local police motorcycle team – if available, but often short of time and resources
- Local IAM, RoSPA or other advanced riding groups and training organisations for advice and especially volunteers
- The NHS Trust Health and Safety unit
- The NHS Trust Transport manager
- Local Councils, especially if they support Bike Safe
- The Charity Commission who can help you with the process of setting up your charity
- NABB, the Nationwide Association of Blood Bikes, has been set up as an umbrella organisation for blood bike groups ; its remit includes encouraging and assisting new groups , and encouraging adoption of a common set of ‘good practice’ standards.
- Freewheelers EVS i.e. Talk to us!
Finally, the easy bit
If you decide to take on the task of setting up a group you will find that we are only too willing to help. Please use the contact form and we will get back to you as soon as possible. We will gladly offer you help with things such as a Constitution, handbook, procedures, insurance contacts, website links, etc. We have no wish to see you struggling to re-invent the wheel. We also have no wish to control or interfere with your aims but we would hope that in years to come we could be happy to be associated with a network of similar groups operating to a high standard which might then provide cover nation-wide. Whatever your decision, we wish you well.