A MOTORBIKING bishop has spoken this week of the “value” and “challenge” of using his hobby to transport lifesaving blood products to NHS patients across Northumbria.
The Bishop of Berwick, the Rt Revd Mark Tanner, has been motorcycling since he was 17, and began volunteering with Northumbria Blood Bikes (NBB) when it was first operational, three years ago. Its group of “blood runners” began delivering blood donations twice a day from the NHS Blood Transfusion Centre (NHSBTC) in Newcastle to Darlington Memorial Hospital, which is part of the County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust.
The NBB later extended its services to other hospitals across the north-east of England, added cars and vans to the fleet, and now offers delivery out of hours. The NHS had previously relied on taxis to pick up medical equipment, organs, blood, and other supplies to replenish stocks between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.
Bishop Tanner said: “I sign up for shifts I am able to do — which is a challenge, given the pressures of a bishop’s diary — but I think it is vital for me to do some volunteering that arises from my own discipleship rather than simply from my ‘role’ as a bishop.”
A standard shift involved picking up one of the distinctive yellow-and-orange motorbikes, filling up with fuel, and completing any pre-scheduled runs, he said. There was an on-call rota for out-of-hours shifts. “On one level, it is a simple delivery task, although there is time pressure. The packages are also immensely important, and I do take particular care when strapping blood boxes to the rack on the back of the bike. It is good to know that I am helping with a very important task.”
The flashing blue lights on the motorcycles could be used only on “blue-light-authorised” runs, he said, and volunteers were not permitted to exceed the speed limit, even when using blue lights. “People do tend to move out of the way, though,” he said, “and we use bikes because they are much quicker through traffic.”
Bishop Tanner has been volunteering for a different charity each week during Lent, including Wansbeck Foodbank, Meadow Well Connected, St Oswald’s Hospice, and the West End Refugee Service. “Statistically, Christians are good at volunteering,” he said. “We are called to be salt and light in the world, and one of the ways we respond to this call is by offering our time outside the Church.”