Devon Freewheelers provide essential support to patients, delivering blood and other products across the county.

Devon Freewheelers is a volunteer-based charity that provides an out-of-hours service to the NHS. Using marked blood bikes and cars, it transports urgently needed blood and medical supplies between hospitals. Besides the Charity’s core work, the volunteers also transport medical equipment, surgical equipment, medication, donor breast milk, patient notes and, more recently, blood, tissue and organs for transplant. The riders and drivers are volunteers who give up their free time to help provide this life-saving service. 

Blood to Helimed10

Two years ago, Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance began carrying blood products. Since then, Devon Freewheelers have ensured that blood is regularly and reliably delivered to our Clinical Team every 48 hours.

Volunteers in the Dorchester area are responsible for transporting the products. The resupply car (courtesy of the Henry Surtees Foundation) is ideally located close by and has a 4x4 capability, which ensures that the blood products can be delivered in all weather conditions.

Each driver is on call for two days, enabling them to complete the scheduled resupply and exchange of blood on one day and be available to respond to any unscheduled resupply if it is used. The driver collects the blood from the Dorchester County Hospital (DCH) blood bank and transports it to our Henstridge airbase. They will exchange it with either the unused blood products, or in the case of an unscheduled run, the used product container. They will then return the blood transit containers back to the blood bank at DCH.

A night on call with Dave Cook (DFW Volunteer)

I’m on call tonight: my shift starts at 5.00pm and finishes at 7.00am tomorrow. I’ll collect a bike from our Head Office in Honiton. The first thing to do when I arrive is check the bike over. Once the safety checks are done, I’ll check that the bike is carrying the correct equipment for the night’s riding ahead. Happy that the bike is safe, I’m ready to go. A quick call to the duty call handler lets them know that I’ve picked the bike up and am now on the road. The call handlers monitor the riders’ and drivers’ progress, so they know roughly where they are and the jobs that have been completed.

First job of the night is a regular pick-up from a doctor’s surgery to collect the afternoon’s blood samples, which require testing at a Pathology Laboratory (PL). Having dropped off the samples and completed the paperwork, I’m ready for the next job. This one’s a preplanned pick up from a home dialysis patient; the blood sample needs to also go to the PL. I duly complete the task and before leaving the hospital, check my phone for any further jobs. There are none, so I head off home. Once there, I send a message to the call handler to let them know I’m off the road and confirm all current jobs are complete.

Time for a cuppa and a bite to eat. I settle in the chair when the phone goes again. An urgent job to attend a Maternity Unit, to transport a blood sample to the PL of a premature birth with complications. No time to waste, so off I go. I collect the sample and head straight to hospital. It’s always a slightly different feeling when transporting the blood of a newborn; a precious commodity entrusted to the rider. This sample will be analysed by blood science staff and the Maternity Unit will have the results within a few short hours, helping the baby to be diagnosed and treated without delay.

A phone check reveals a missed call from the call handler. Whole blood needs to be collected from one hospital and delivered to another’s Surgical Ward. I collect two units of blood, strap the transit box onto the bike’s rear carrier, then call the handler to inform them I’m on my way. Forty minutes later and the blood is handed to the staff at the nurse’s station. On my way home, another call comes in to attend a doctor’s surgery, which has an urgent fluid sample that needs to go to hospital. Done! Once again, all jobs are complete, so I head off home.

It’s 10.30pm and I get a call from the Bristol Freewheeler Blood Bikes regarding a scheduled donor breast milk transfer from Bristol to Plymouth. The call handlers are busy behind the scenes organising the other riders involved in the movement and together, we plan the handover. When the Bristol Freewheelers arrive, we exchange the precious cargo and secure the insulated donor breast milk box to the bike’s rear carrier. With the relevant paperwork complete, we bid each other farewell and safe riding. I then head off to the next handover point, where I will be met by a West Devon rider who’ll take the donor breast milk to its destination.

I finally return home at 1.45am. Time for boots off and under the duvet, making sure that my phone is by the bed in case any further calls come in during the night. Tomorrow I’ll return the bike to Head Office first thing, ensuring it is washed and fuelled ready for the next volunteer rider.

I’m extremely proud that every journey is making a difference to someone’s life; that’s extremely satisfying!