Throughout the night, 365 days a year volunteers are biking the length and breadth of Sussex to deliver vital supplies of blood to people in emergency need.
Those bikers are from the Sussex branch of the Service of Emergency Rider Volunteers (SERV) making visits to hospitals, including St Richard’s in Chichester and Worthing General where many residents of the Horsham district can be admitted in an emergency.
Requests are received via telephone from hospitals in need of blood or blood products by a SERV controller.
They then liaise with other SERV regions, the National Blood Service and volunteer riders or drivers to get the required items collected and delivered in as efficiently as possible.
Last year SERV Sussex were asked to make over 570 deliveries to hospitals as far afield as Hastings in the east of the county to Chichester in the west.
The blood and blood products delivered all originate from the National Blood Service in Tooting London.
Without SERV these deliveries would have either had to wait till the next day, been taken by taxi or, in emergencies, collected by ambulance.
The estimated cost to the NHS for a courier service, which would take longer, is about £100,000.
In September one of the volunteers, Roy Stagg of Reapers Close, Horsham, ensured his delivery got to its destination even though he was involved in an accident en route.
At 2am on September 19 he received a call to bike to Godstone to pick up a supply and travel back down to Worthing Hospital.
He had collected it and was well on his way to the hospital when he collided with a van on the A27.
He was thrown off his bike and is still recovering from his injuries. However he was still putting his patients first.
He said: “As I lay there, I thought I ought to ring Danny (the SERV controller) to advise him of the accident and that the blood units had not been delivered. I managed to get my phone out of my trouser pocket. I checked that I could move my legs, arms and back, by wiggling my toes and fingers and that I could move my back and neck.
“Although I kept my crash helmet on, I rang my wife first just in case she heard about it from another source and then rang Danny.”
Danny subsequently picked up the blood while Roy was taken to hospital.
Malcolm Robinson, chief biomedical scientist and manager, Blood Transfusion at the Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “Amazingly this all occurred with minimal delay as well, which is very important because we had a patient requiring those units. The reliability of SERV is second to none.
“It must be appreciated that this is a voluntary service where volunteers work on behalf of patients free of charge and the individuals even pay for their own fuel.”
Roy, a retired police officer, also dedicates some of his time to raising awareness of the charity.
He said: “It’s important to let the public know what we are about. You never know when one of us is going to need it.
“Our bikes are kept on the road by public donations, which we are very grateful for.
“We all have different stories of why we do it. It’s about putting something back and for me it fulfils quite a lot of my loves.”
One in 10 patients in hospital, especially those admitted unexpectedly due to accident or injury, require donated blood.
If SERV did not exist, hospitals would have to pay a courier to deliver the emergency products which would take longer and the cost of that is estimated to be around £100,000 every year.
Amy Simmons, 31, knows firsthand of the value of the volunteers’ work. She was giving birth to her second child at Worthing Hospital when she needed their help.
She said: “I went in to be induced and then it went into emergency c-section.
“It was at that point when the blood was requested. I was unconscious by that stage.
“It was a matter of life and death. I was very grateful that they had done it and then I found out they were a charity and not part of the NHS.”
Her estimated blood loss was 5,000ml. “I would have died without the blood being transfused,” she added.
Her daughter, Madeleine, now three, was born healthy, but the first she knew of the transfusion was when she woke up in intensive care.
She was lucky enough to be united with her SERV volunteer, Arthur Kennard, and went on to raise more than £1,000 doing a 40 mile hike.
Roy found out about the service when his daughter was rushed to hospital giving birth prematurely.
He saw SERV volunteers delivering frozen donated breast milk for babies who are born premature or sick.
Often if a baby is premature, the mother’s milk is not ready yet and receiving donor milk instead of formula can increase their chances of survival up to ten times.
SERV Sussex currently have a fleet of five motorbikes, and two cars, which are all branded with SERV Sussex Blood Bike livery. The charity is currently raising money to replace its fleet by 2015 to ensure volunteers are safe on the roads.
In Summer 2014 the charity managed to raise the money to buy a 4x4 which can be used in the winter as in temperatures of under two degrees the motorbikes cannot go out as it is unsafe.
A spokesman said: “SERV Drivers are passionate about ensuring the colder weather does not stop them from doing their crucial job and therefore we must do everything we can to make sure every SERV vehicles is completely safe and roadworthy before our volunteers go out.”
The charity is always looking for volunteers to not only transport blood supplies, but to be emergency call handlers.
If you would like to know more about joining the SERV Sussex team visit www.servsussex.org.uk