The Blood Runners - Emergency Riders

We spend a night shadowing SERV riders who give up free time to transport emergency blood between hospitals to give those in need a fighting chance

Posted: 4 October 2011
by Jon Urry

The clock on the mantlepiece shows 9:47pm. Usually at this time on a Friday night I’d be tucking into a beer. Instead I’m sat in the front room of a house in Northampton watching some mindless TV programme I’ve never wanted to watch before. I’m fairly bored.

“Sometimes we get whole nights without a call and sometimes we’re flat out,” explains John Mason, the SERV (Service by Emergency Volunteers) volunteer who agreed to let me follow him tonight. “If there’s a big accident on the motorway it can be really busy. Oddly enough most calls are between ten and eleven.”

It’s unlikely you have ever heard of SERV. They exist, essentially, to save the NHS money. According to folklore (and I deeply suspect this isn’t true) it all started in the seventies after a biker was knocked off and rushed to hospital. His mates, who were out riding with him, followed the ambulance to the hospital only to be told by the staff that they were out of his specific type of blood. A biker volunteered to ride to a nearby hospital to get the required red stuff and so the service began.

Just as I’m pondering why I’m such a selfish bastard who’s never considered doing anything this worthy, John’s mobile lets out a shrill beep.

“Urgent blood. John Radcliffe in Oxford to Northampton General, two units of blood,” he says. Although his voice remains totally calm, my heart rate has just hit the roof. This is it. I spring up from my chair and fumble putting my kit on. Adrenaline has turned my fingers into thumbs and I drop my keys a few times. I glance at John, who is pulling on his bike boots in the same deliberate fashion as you would if you were popping out for a Sunday run. He laughs at me.

Following John on his Pan European, he’s smooth and fast in a typical advanced rider way. Keeping up isn’t a problem, but I can’t help feeling slightly tense. It’s an odd feeling as I usually ride for fun, the only time constraints tending to be an irate girlfriend or rapidly closing takeaway. This time we have a very real purpose. The pressure is tangible.

Reaching a section of empty dual carriageway, John keeps his pace strictly within the speed limits. After a few miles we catch up with a car merrily trundling along in the outside lane, totally oblivious to our approach. Ordinarily I would have undertaken without a second’s thought, but safety is paramount and a few flashes of the Pan’s main beam soon drag the dopey driver out of his daydream. Following behind I can’t help thinking I could easily trim vital minutes off the ride. But then would I be riding in such a controlled fashion? Weighing up what’s at stake, I decide probably not. Yes, police may treat my case with a degree of leniency should I get stopped, but explaining myself would far outweigh any minutes saved.

Following a pre-determined route (all SERV riders follow a set route so controllers know where they are should something happen and can give an accurate ETA) we reach the John Radcliffe 47 minutes after leaving Northampton, just two minutes longer than John estimated.

Parking outside A&E we walk up to reception to find a nurse waiting for us with a large red bag. My stomach churns. Before this moment it was a bit of fun and games, a ride with a purpose, but seeing the case clearly marked ‘Human Blood’ and the look on the nurse’s face brings it home hard. Paperwork is exchanged and we walk briskly out of A&E .

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Hi Evil Ken!

There has been interest in a South Wales group and we actively encourage and assist new start-up groups. if you send me your details, I'll add them to our "out-of-area" database and if anything happens in your area, we'll let you know.


Danny Bateman

publicity <at> servobn . org . uk

Posted: 01/08/2010 at 12:38

Two major inaccuracies...The blood is NOT collected from A& is collected from the National Blood Service in a completely different part of the John Radcliffe...also,unauthorised people ie couriers etc would not be taking blood to operating theatres,it SHOULD in all cases be handed over to reception or haematology/pathology staff,depending on the hospital,whatever the emergency. Also,please note that the National Blood Service has its own highly trained drivers on site at all times who can obviously due to this fact alone,get blood to its destination quicker than a Serv rider (particularly in an emergency situation using Blood Service Blue Light vehicles)

Posted: 05/08/2010 at 14:46

You don't happen to work with NBS by any chance Sonia?

Posted: 06/08/2010 at 14:53

Seems like a good way for wannabes to get points on your licence. 

 If it was true emergency blood the BTS would transport it themselves in one of their blue light vans.

Posted: 11/08/2010 at 16:37

I have ridden with SERV for a number of years and still have a very clean licence. 

The role of SERV is to support the hospitals in maintaining safe levels of blood stocks and products in order to prevent emergency situations occurring.

I have ridden with deliveries for patients in theatre and have been told many times that the SERV delivery was as quick as any blue light service provided by NBS.  However, volunteering is not for 'wannabes', as it requires a great deal of dedication and commitment.

The NHSBT do supply the blood products (and do a great job), but, they also charge the hospitals for the service of delivery.  We are able to save the hospitals that cost.

Great article, although, as stated, the run was not a 'normal' delivery.  The boxes are usually delivered to the Pathology department, as mentioned by Sonia.  

Apart from the dispensation to treat red lights as 'give way' signs, riding on blue lights wouldn't help a motorcyclist much.  Most drivers react too late or panic, by which time the bike has passed.  

SERV is just one of the many volunteer services around the country assisting the NHS in this way.  I salute them all.

Posted: 06/10/2010 at 14:12

ive been riding with SERV surrey and south london for just over a year, im 20 and i have no points and never been stopped.

 i do it because  i get a felling like nothing else when riding home thinking i've helped save somebody's life.  

i plan to be a long SERVing member.  

Posted: 15/10/2010 at 19:36

Unfortunately not in Scotland either

Posted: 05/10/2011 at 10:59

There has recently been a group setup in Wales. It's early days yet but check out the link for more info...

Posted: 05/10/2011 at 11:43

When are regurgitated articles from Visordown mag days going to stop appearing as new items on the website?

As a once avid reader of the magazine, it's bloomin annoying to find old articles passing as new ones online!

There's hardly ever any new content any more... how come the comments for this article date back to 2010 but the article has a "supposed" published date of yesterday????

PS While I'm having a moan, whatever happened to MF's Ducati Pantah rebuild for example... this was covered in the last few months of the mag but I've not seen any mention of it online since the mag went for a burton?

Posted: 05/10/2011 at 14:00

There was an article about SERV Surrey a while back in a local magazine. As an IAM rider I thought Id like to get involved. I emailed and telephoned and left messages but never got a reply. I figure that "always looking for volunteers" means in certain areas only?

If not, the application process requires persistance?

Posted: 06/10/2011 at 00:14

Try Surrey's facebook page - someone must have a contact there!

Posted: 06/10/2011 at 13:01

ScotsERVS - Are the Scottish Equivalent of Servs, have a look at there website

Posted: 31/10/2011 at 11:45

When the blood / blood products is snatched out of your hand and rushed straight into theatre you can be certain it is indeed emergency blood!!

I have been a controller for SERV Kent for just over a year now and i've never enjoyed something as much as i do this. Such an amazing team to be involved with :)

AND Old and Slow, my dad is one of the very dedicated riders and has undertaken extensive blue light training meaning if needed he can get the blood to any hospital just as quickly as any nbs blue light van and for FREE!!

Posted: 07/12/2011 at 17:41

BTS don't work out of hours, SERV exsists to provide a real emergency service out of hours for the NHS free of charge. Hospitals would have to pay taxi's / couriers to provide this service without SERV, a lot more expensive and a darn sight slower.

Posted: 07/12/2011 at 21:54

I agree with Liz I have been on blue light runs with her dad Arthur an excellent bike rider, and yes to some of you that do not know we do deal with real emergencies I have had a sister/nurse waiting for the blood/platelets at the door of the hospital. Serv has changed a lot over the last few years and has become more professional with first class members Riders/Drivers, and our night controllers are the back bone of Serv they do fantastic job at all unearthly hours

Posted: 15/12/2011 at 14:14

The myth of how SERV started is not a myth it was indeed created in surrey after the biker was told it would take atleast 2hr for blood to arrive from tooting. He thought and decided he could get it quicker with the hospitals permission he did the run. Afterwards with much discussion with the hospital in regards to would they use a service if he created one to transport the blood in emergency they said yes and SERV was born. For names and dates you should talk to a original surrey member after surrey came Kent. Then sussex followed by hampshire which unfortunately folded due to problems but I see now its back with a vengence plus more counties too. I was involved with the setting up of Kent serv I have the greatest respect for ALL the members who selflessly give time and effort to save lives and they do it with very little regard for reward except knowing they did their bit and saved a life. I remember a collection held at Asda sittingbourne where a lady with a young baby was about to go in for shopping saw our bikes and information screens smiled and told one of our collectors to hold out his hands were upon she tipped out her purse with the words I been trying to say thankyou to you people but have never been able to find you. Because of you my baby here is alive today. When asked how she knew it was us. She replied the ward sister came in and said don't worry the bloodrunners are on their way.
Another collection a young girl ran up put her pocket money in the tin and with tears in her eyes said thankyou you people help keep my sister alive for longer when she had cancer unfortunately she lost the battle but because of serv transporting the platelettes when needed reliably and quickly she lived a bit longer and it was that reason she thanked us. So the service is a life saver and by attending collections you sometimes get to meet someone who wants to say thankyou. Keep on riding SERV and may you go another 30+ years. Oh sorry for the rambling I get carried away

Posted: 20/12/2011 at 21:54

I am now setting up NWBB Merseyside and have read the above posts with absolute joy and a great deal of concern. Joy in the knowledge that we have the services which we all need at a drop of a hat and further that the costs incurred in transporting blood and other items in an emergency without bothering the likes of the ambulance or police service meaning they can concentrate on the things they are meant to be doing, saving lives and upholding the law.

In a difficult economic climate that we have with recessionary times meaning that public services will be stretched the NHS will need to control monies a little more than they do at present. If this service which is operated for free helps balance the budget why is anyone complaining. The public at large through charitable donations help keep the service operating, if the government had the task of setting this up, with the officialism and red tape that would be required to overcome, the costs would far exceed what it costs now and the only victim of that would be the public in taxes, so bring this one.

Posted: 21/12/2011 at 19:16

Hi,I have now been working for the NHSBT Hospital Services for over 15 years and actually deal with Blue light situations and Major incidents and Adhoc deliveries. The National Blood Service DO provide Blue Light Cover for out of Hours for Emergencies and Major Incidents at our Hospitals as that Driver is on Site at the JR ready to jump in the Blue light Car and on the way in matter of minutes! a Service SERV do not Provide as they are NOT allowed to use Blue Lights and mainly deal with Adhoc Deliveries and Non urgent Adhocs just as Couriers do and take around half and hour to a hour to get to the John Radcliffe and then onwards to the relevant Hospitial so that NHSBT Blue light Drivers can Provide Blue Light Cover 24/7 as well as doing other adhocs..I do like Serv and Because they are Good at what they do and are Friendly and Provide a great Service when they arrive at the John Radcliffe Oxford to Collect our Non urgent Deliveries. But Please NHSBT Blue Light Drivers do a Fantastic Job too! Happy New Year to you all

Posted: 31/12/2011 at 13:48

Nice to hear some positive comments about Serv from someone who works for the NHSBT. To many of them think we are taking their jobs.

Posted: 01/01/2012 at 20:45

Can I ask? Who pays for the bikes, servicing and fuel? Is this all payed for by the SERV donations?
I think this is an admirable service, wether its emergency blood products, or routine deliveries. These people give up thier time for free. They do not ask to be paid and do not expect it. The blue light drivers do a fantastic job also, but as they are (I believe) paid for thier services, they SHOULD be on site and waiting to do the emergency calls. They are all heros in my book.

I have tried to apply to become a blood runner for SERV, but have yet to recieve a response. I would like to make a difference.

Well done to all of you.

Posted: 24/01/2012 at 08:57

i would like to be a "bloodrunner" but i have my aprilia rs 50 and im only 16..... but i heard you need to be a "experienced" rider.....

Posted: 19/12/2012 at 23:31

I was going to sign up for this in Kent a while back till I found out that the rider pays for everything. And that's wrong. It means that the service is held in low regard and is really a jolly for riders to feel they are important. There can be no other reason if the NHS or whoever wont even pay for petrol.

If I give my time and the use of my bike and petrol isnt even offered than I know I'm being taken for granted, taken for a chump.

You WILL make a difference - but only in your feelgood factor. The NHS couldnt care less.

As for the insurance problems doing this! I didnt even go that far and kicked the whole idea into touch and left it for those who want to feel important.

Posted: 20/12/2012 at 13:39

Sounds like an NBS spill to me! After all they promise 3 hours on a Blue Light call and we promise a maximum of 2 hours for anything! What more can I say? And of course there is the difference in cost to the hospital! So we win all round I do believe!

Posted: 12/01/2013 at 11:12

Hi dose this run in Bristol my husband was thinking about doing it .
Cheers heather

Posted: 25/01/2013 at 11:30

Is there. Service in the West Midlands ? I am a road craft blue light emergency fire appliance driver and a biker, after a huge off 14 yrs ago I want to know how I can join this great service to help others. Can someone email me and let me know how. My email is Thankyou guys Karl Reynolds

Posted: 06/03/2013 at 16:00

Hi there. Fors and againsts on the string isn't there! A few points in my limited experience.
1. Tues 12th Aug 2014. Been on the books for 6 mths, first night on the rota tonight.
2. Cornwall Freewheelers EVS, we get our fuel back when using our own bikes, all kit supplied through the charity, time and bike wear and tear is mine to give.
3. Wannabee's. Forget it! Exceed the speed and the fuzz nail ya. I have to be IAM Qualified to ride a Charity Chariot(few more weeks to go). Even Charity bikes have to be driven at the speed limit, blue lights or not. Think this is a licence to be a hero, your looking in the wrong place.
4. Can't comment on the NBS. What i can say is this, Cornwall hospitals love us. We stay quiet, heads down, no ego's, just get on with it.
5. I've yet to feel the euphoria of knowing that i have directly helped to save or help someone but i'm sure i will. Some of the events that have happened down this way have been nothing short of tremendous. Frozen breast milk for mothers who can't nurse, surgical instruments for people already on the table etc.

Good luck to those trying to join, stay safe to those already Blood Running and remember the effort injected into your loved ones recovery, WE may well have had something to do with it.
Kind Regards
Ian B

Posted: 12/08/2014 at 20:55

I live in liskeard and would like some more information about becoming a bloodrunner.

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Posted: 20/01/2016 at 11:18

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