FOR a group of volunteer “blood bikers” it is life-saving business as usual over the festive period.
Around 100 volunteers will keep ferrying vital medical supplies like blood, plasma and donor breastmilk to hospitals across Oxfordshire and beyond.
John Stepney is the co-ordinator of the Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire (OBBN) branch of Service by Emergency Rider Volunteers (SERV).
He said: “There is this public image of us as leather-clad bikers with no road manners whatsoever, but we have so many different types of people who volunteer.
“The canon of Christ Church Oxford helps out, there is a hot-air balloon operator, a magistrate, businessmen. Just all walks of life.”
The bikers are called by hospitals across the region to pick up and drop off blood needed for patients on operating tables and other medical emergencies.
Although they serve four counties the hub of the operation is at Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital in Headington, where the blood is stored.
One of the vital medical supplies is factor eight, a blood clotting agent used to transfuse for patients with haemophilia whose blood does not clot properly.
When haemophiliacs are injured they lose blood fast, so the blood biker’s job is vital to get them the clotting agent they need in time before they lose too much blood.
One year ago, Mr Stepney was on-call on New Year’s Day and asked to deliver factor eight to Milton Keynes for two children.
The 53-year-old said: “Some people ask why we would do this over Christmas and new year. I was on the road for four hours last New Year’s Day.
“But when I got home and put my feet up I just thought, my alternative was spending the last four hours watching the omnibus of EastEnders.
“There is a great deal of responsibility. If you lose it or drop it you can’t just get another sample.
“If it is something being taken the other way for diagnostic tests it sometimes takes hours for the body to produce another sample.”
The bikers have to reach the hospital within 45 minutes of the emergency call before setting out to whichever hospital the blood is needed.
If blood is needed further away, members of the 18 regional branches across the country will set up a relay to pass it on.
l SERV is always looking for volunteers and for help with fundraising the £1,500 it costs the charity for petrol each month.
Riders are on call from 7pm to 6am, and the demand for the service has increased hugely in recent years.
To find out more, go to serv.org.uk