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The Corporation

Posted: 01/07/20

‘Blood biker’ Greg proud to support health service during coronavirus crisis

A West Nottinghamshire College employee has spoken of his “privilege” to be supporting the NHS during the coronavirus crisis through his voluntary role as a ‘blood biker.’

  • Greg insists he feels “very privileged” to provide an emergency courier service transporting blood, blood products and other patient-essential items for SERV Kent.
  • Greg with his trusty Honda CBR 1100 Blackbird, which he uses in his capacity as a volunteer ‘blood biker’ with the charity.

Outside of his regular job at the college, where he works as an apprenticeship specialist in the retail sector, Greg Harper is a motorcycle rider with SERV Kent – a charity that provides emergency courier services transporting blood, blood products, samples and other patient-essential items for major hospitals and hospices across the county in south-east England.

He is one of 175 volunteers, known as ‘blood bikers’ or ‘blood runners’, who give up their time to provide their services free of charge for the charity, while also paying their own fuel costs, which helps reduce pressure on the NHS Blood and Transplant Service.

Although SERV (Service by Emergency Response Volunteers) Kent usually operates outside normal working hours such as evenings and weekends, since April it has been operating around-the-clock to provide critical support to the NHS during the pandemic.

Its army of volunteers transport biological products between hospitals and laboratories including suspected Covid-19 samples for testing – saving the health service much-needed time and funds for patient care.

In addition to its scheduled couriers, the charity also has a dedicated emergency response team which has received additional training to respond to urgent calls, including attending to the scene of incidents to support Air Ambulance Kent, Surrey and Sussex.

Father-of-two Greg joined SERV Kent in 2018 to “give something back” in response to the “amazing care” family members have received from the NHS over the years.

His daughter was a frequent visitor to hospital as a child after being diagnosed with right-sided Hemiplegia – a form of Cerebral Palsy that affects one side of the body – when she was just two-years-old. Growing-up, she required intensive speech therapy and physiotherapy but thanks to successful treatment, lives a normal adult life and, now aged 21, works as a nursery practitioner.

Meanwhile, Greg’s father-in-law underwent chemotherapy and other treatments after being diagnosed with blood cancer 12 years ago and has since made a full recovery.

Greg’s gratitude towards the caring profession prompted him to get a part-time job with the British Heart Foundation (BHF) when he and his family lived in Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire, between 2002 and 2006.

“My role with the BHF was as a courier, collecting donations for the local branch, and I met some really inspirational people with some intense stories about blood transfusions” said Greg.

“It made me realise how fortunate we are in this country to have so many amazing volunteers who give up their valuable time for the good of others.”

Now living in his home county of Kent once again, Greg decided to join SERV Kent as a way of combining his desire to support patient care with his passion for riding motorbikes.

The proud owner of a Honda CBR 1100 Blackbird, Greg was required to take an advanced rider assessment, which he passed first time, and full training in all aspects of transporting biological products quickly and safely. He also visited the pathology departments of several local hospitals as part of his induction.

Greg was then ready to hit the road as a volunteer for the charity; transporting blood, samples and other items for the medical and surgical treatment of patients.

The 49-year-old, from Maidstone, regularly undertakes three shifts each month as part of a rota system and is on-call for up to 13 hours at a time. He has also helped run regular fundraising events to boost the charity’s coffers and promote awareness of its work in the community, although these have been temporarily curtailed due to the pandemic.

Greg said: “A typical shift for me would be working either days or nights. Due to the pandemic I've been issued with personal protective equipment, so I make sure I've got everything in place and wait for the call from the controller.

“Runs could include pick-ups from St. George’s Hospital in Tooting, the main blood bank that serves local hospitals, or handovers, where riders and drivers meet and exchange products at a change-over point to get them from one part of the county to another. It really depends on the urgency of the package. I mainly pick-up blood, Platelets (blood cells) and other samples.

“As a volunteer organisation we've increased our operation to 24-hours-a-day to support our NHS. The demand for samples is currently higher than it's ever been; there are so many samples that have to be moved around for testing that we’re now supporting it full-time. At a time when the NHS is incredibly stretched, we are relieving some of the pressure on the blood service. Everybody on the rota has really stepped-up.”

In his ‘day job’ as a retail specialist at the college, Greg delivers work-based learning in subjects including management, business administration, customer service, team-leading, warehousing, business improvement techniques, English, maths and ICT to apprentices working for various employers, predominately in the south of England.

He joined the college in 2017 having previously worked for several private training-providers, delivering apprenticeships in retail management. Prior to this he spent 25 years working in the men’s clothing industry at store and area manager level for some of the UK’s largest retailers, before becoming a shareholder of an independent clothing store in Canary Wharf, London, selling prestigious brands.

While Greg is immensely proud his role in education allows him to use his vast retail experience to equip apprentices with the skills for successful careers, he insists this is matched by the satisfaction he feels being a volunteer blood biker.

“I’m massively proud of the work I do with SERV Kent,” said Greg. “It all becomes very real when you pick-up your very first box of blood for patients in hospital. You think to yourself: ‘these people are really relying on what’s inside this package’.

“Hospital staff, patients and their relatives are very appreciative of the work we do. There have been instances of riders returning to their motorcycles to find a thank-you note, saying ‘what you are doing has changed a loved one’s life’.

“It’s something I feel very privileged to do.”