A GROUP of volunteers who dedicate their own time to offer a ‘Blood Bike’ service during the weekends and evenings has been told they are no longer required – the NHS has instead chosen to pay a company for the service.
The volunteers behind the Warwickshire & Solihull Blood Bikes (WSBB), which is a registered charity, pride themselves on offering a free transport service – transporting not only blood but plasma, tissue samples and other vital supplies between hospitals at zero cost to the NHS, as they are funded through donations.
But now, following a tendering process worth £14million, University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire (UHCW) will use a limited company – QE Facilities Ltd (Gateshead) who are wholly owned by Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust – to carry out the service 24/7.
It has also transpired that the tendering process took place in 2016 and WSBB, despite already providing the service, was not even consulted at the time.
Members of WSBB have said that the decision has put the future of their charity at risk as it has made the team virtually redundant as 80 per cent of their work was within the Coventry and Warwickshire area.
A petition has now been set up to show support for the bikers and has nearly 30,000 signatures – the petition can be viewed here.
A spokesperson for University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust has said that profits beyond the operational expenses from QE Facilities LTD would end up back with an NHS Trust. You have to remember, however, that this will be in the North East and not in the Midlands.
Based at University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire (UHCW), the service works with four hospitals (University Hospital Coventry, South Warwickshire Hospital, George Eliot Hospital and Queens Hospital, Burton) – as well as around 250 GP practices
Since being founded in 2011, WSBB says that it has made 7,000 calls for pathology, which they estimate has saved the NHS around £700,000.
A spokesperson for Warwickshire Blood Bikes said: “In 2012 Coventry and Warwickshire Blood Bikes Charity was set up to provide an urgent out of hours transport service for the delivery of blood, spinal fluid, surgical instruments and patient notes amongst other things.
“More recently we now provide a daily service to the air ambulance of fresh blood for use in some of the most critical emergencies faced by the NHS, and we now collect donated mothers breast milk to give premature babies the best possible chance at life.
“However in 2017, unknown to the charity, a pathology transport service was put to tender by UHCW at an estimated cost of 14million over 5 years.
“Warwickshire and Solihull Blood bikes were not consulted on the plans and this move has devastated the charity and its 200 volunteers who give up their time and money to help save lives in the local community.
“This will affect Rugby St Cross, George Eliot and Warwick Hospital.
“UHCW allowed the charity to continue fundraising after singing a new service level agreement (SLA) just 10 days after placing this to tender.
“They allowed us to continue accepting the goodwill donations of the communities of Warwickshire and Solihull trying to future proof the organisation by investing in a new response bike and a 4×4 vehicle to allow us to ensure we could respond in all weathers.
“The charity has resolved to continue in it’s now limited capacity to serve the air ambulance and the milk runs, but how long we can continue to do that is severe doubt.”
Speaking about the tendering decision, a University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust spokesman said: “The Coventry and Warwickshire Pathology Service (CWPS) serves 1.6 million patients, four acute hospitals, nine Clinical Commissioning Groups and more than 250 GP practices.
“It runs a transport and logistics service to safely transfer blood samples and other medical items between hospitals and other sites. Demand has grown massively and approximately 10 million samples were handled in 2018/19.
“The transport service was previously delivered by a wide range of suppliers, with some contracted through CWPS and others through third party organisations.
“With complexities increasing and the service potentially expanding to cover areas such as Hereford and Worcester, a decision was made to standardise delivery to ensure current and future needs, as well as stringent UK accreditation requirements, are met and exceeded.
“In line with public sector procurement regulations, we went out to open tender and supplier days were held to inform organisations of our requirements.
“This process has now concluded and the contract awarded to QE Facilities, a wholly owned subsidiary company of Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust. Any profit generated is reinvested in health care, not transferred to independent shareholders.
“Our aim now is to ensure the service continues to go from strength to strength and helps to further enhance the patient experience.”
The spokesman added: “All previous suppliers – including volunteers from the Warwickshire and Solihull Blood Bikes – have been informed of the changes and thanked for their invaluable contribution.
“We offered to continue utilising Warwickshire and Solihull Blood Bikes until at least June 2019 while we supported them in exploring new opportunities. Since then, representatives have informed us by email of their decision to withdraw the service from 1 April 2019.
“It should be noted that Warwickshire and Solihull Blood Bikes transported approximately 1,000 samples a year – 0.01% of the total received by CWPS. We are immensely grateful to the group for its hard work and support.”