Members of Crewkerne & District U3A heard about the oldest blood delivery service, run by volunteers, at their November meeting. Guest speaker Martin Surrey chairman of Yeovil Freewheelers, which was founded in 1978 by Cecil Turner, said: “During that first year we had just one call. It was disheartening but we decided to press on and today we have a small fleet of motorbikes, permanent garaging facilities and 52 volunteer riders who operate 365 days a year.”
The Yeovil Freewheelers who celebrated their 40th anniversary this year, began the service on a shoestring, using their own motorbikes and wearing high visibility jackets given to them by the fire brigade. The service is now regarded as indispensable and the riders who have all passed an Advanced Drivers test, transport medical documents, blood and other essential medical supplies except organ donations, saving the NHS tens of thousands of pounds a year.
A registered charity, they receive no funding from the NHS, Government or Blood Transfusion Service but incur costs of around £40,000 a year, all of which has to be met by donations from the public. Martin Surrey said: “Our volunteers clock in after a full days work and then get assignments that can keep them on the road until three or four in the morning. However, the more anti-social trips are usually allocated to our volunteers who are unemployed or retired.”
The national association to which the Yeovil Freewheelers belong has negotiated VAT refunding and in 2020 will gain road tax exemption. Their services have been accepted recently by parts of Dorset but Martin said: “These are early days and our problems apart from the A303 and M25, are NHS communications among themselves, NHS staff awareness of our services and gaining the confidence of new NHS staff.”
U3A chair Sheila Seymour, who wore her biker jacket for the occasion said: “Martin was an excellent speaker and a fine ambassador for the cause.” Martin was thanked by U3A speakers secretary Denise Smith, who explained how the U3A could donate to the Yeovil Freewheelers. Extra chairs had to be brought into the GRC for the monthly meeting, as so many U3A members were keen to hear the talk, find out more about the service’s trips between Yeovil hospitals involving blood deliveries and patient notes and the rarer medications they sometimes had to collect from much further afield.