by Barbara Lancey
A male motorcyclist in full 'leathers' will certainly turn the heads of some women, but imagine the excitement of the group at the start of our March meeting, when he said his name was Ewan McGregor! Of course, our guest was not THE Ewan McGregor, but nevertheless he was just as charming and just as Scottish, and a representative of the 'Freewheelers', a registered charity which offers an out of hours and free of charge courier service to the NHS – their slogan "Riding for Life" describes their operation perfectly.
We were taken on a graphic journey of this voluntary organisation, from when it was formed locally around 15 years ago, to the present day with Freewheeler groups now countrywide. The NHS has its own weekday daytime courier service but have no such provision overnight or at weekends. This volunteer service was therefore formed to fill this gap operating 365 days a year, and at no charge.
Ewan recounted some particular cases, outlining the difficulties they can face, but also expressing the feeling of satisfaction knowing a patient has been helped by his efforts. A rider (and there are fifty covering the South West) has to hold an advanced driving licence and be fully conversant with everything they carry, as it is actually considered to be hazardous waste and has limited viability – hence the urgency to transport products from one place to another as quickly as possible. Although they transport blood they carry many other vital items such as whole bloods, blood samples, urine samples, prescription drugs and breast milk, operating to and from all types of hospitals, pathology laboratories, and people's homes. The organisation purchases the motorbikes from the Police, who also service and maintain them, and although Freewheelers are officially blue light operators, they are not allowed to break speed limits or go through red lights, but can use the blue lights and sirens to clear a path ahead as necessary. In addition to the riders, co-ordinators, also volunteers, answer the phone and disseminate the tasks. The co-ordinators also track riders, who are often despatched to obscure locations, and any delayed response is immediately investigated.
Freewheelers also spend time raising awareness and money, by giving talks and shaking buckets in supermarkets. They need to raise approximately £130,000 a year to keep this vital service mobile, the specialised motorbikes being the main outlay, but they save the NHS £350,000 a year.
Another interesting and informative evening! Our next meeting is on Tuesday 17 April at 7.30pm in Drayton Village Hall, when we will be testing the taste buds with a demonstration on how to make and hopefully sampling Sweet Canapés! Guests welcome for just £2.50, or become a member for just £10 a year! For further information call Barbara on 01458 252657, or Aideen on 01458 252022.