Mat Haisman is fast asleep. It’s 3 a.m. The phone beside him rings loudly, unapologetically breaking his slumber. Groggy, he knows the drill; he jumps out of bed and quickly gets dressed. He’s got just minutes to put his kit on and be mobile. By 3:10 a.m., he’s on a motorbike heading toward a pick-up destination.
Haisman is a volunteer for the Lincolnshire Emergency Blood Bike Service or LEBBS, a regional branch of the National Association of Blood Bikes. The charity provides out-of-hours free couriers who deliver urgent products to National Health Service hospitals, healthcare services and Lincolnshire & Nottingham Air Ambulance.
Run entirely by volunteers, COVID-19 has placed an increased demand on LEBBS, which covers an area of nearly 2,700 square miles. Haisman, who has been on duty one week-end each month for the past three years, now makes himself available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“Everyone who volunteers for LEBBS was asked if we could do extra shifts to help so I sought permission from my line manager,” said Haisman, Raytheon UK’s Sentinel R.MK1 programme manager. “We’ve ramped up from 5-10 runs over a weekend to 52 runs over a week. All of our 14 vehicles (including cars) are on the road and we have two to three times the amount of volunteers we would normally.”
It’s quite a shift but one Haisman is happy to make: “Since lockdown, I’ve had a bike for a couple of weeks and been on-call round the clock.
“When a call comes in it means a hospital or other organisation urgently needs our services,” he said. “You have to be ready to respond quickly; the bikes have GPS trackers so our duty controller knows if you’ve started riding within the expected 10 minutes.
“We’re an emergency service. We’re not quite as fast as a firefighter down a pole, but our response is fast,” Haisman said. “As soon the hospital rings our duty controller, the job is allocated to the nearest on-duty crew member and we aim to arrive within 20 minutes.”
Volunteers transport essential medical items such as blood, pathology and microbiology specimens, patient medical records, pharmaceuticals and donor breast milk.
“We’re generally blind to the specifics of what we’re transporting, but when you’re responsible for delivering critically urgent items it gets the adrenaline flowing,” he said. “Last month, a premature baby and the mother had to be separated due to COVID-19, and we’ve been transporting breastmilk daily from the mother to the baby.
“We’re also delivering a wider range of items – including PPE and COVID-19 samples ` – to a wider catchment area. Yesterday, I ended up going across the county for four hours and 160 miles with 300 COVID test samples on the bike,” he said.
Finding some of the new locations has been challenging: “Instead of being called to a particular hospital, it could now be a specific ward or a pathology lab. Generally, the labs aren’t signposted so we’ve been using a grid reference app to pinpoint the exact door inside the building.”
A former Royal Air Force engineering officer, Haisman says his 20 year career instilled a mantra of “service before self.”
“When I left the RAF, I felt that kind of service element was really missing from my life. I’d been riding motorbikes for 20 years when I came across LEBBS at an air show,” he said. “Combining volunteering with motorbike riding looked pretty cool and feeds both needs.”
Without this service, the NHS would have to pay for specially authorised taxis or use the hospital ambulance courier service.
“Essentially we save the NHS thousands of pounds each year, which is our number one aim as well as saving lives and creating a positive image of motorcycling.
“It’s absolutely something I’m proud of, but you don’t really think about it. As soon as we went into lockdown it was clear that more runs would be needed. We can get these things delivered with speed, safely and without cost to the NHS. It was natural for me to say, ‘Yes I’ll come and help’,” said Haisman.