Europe has been running circles around us when it comes to social and cultural innovations. They showed that paid vacation and sick leave is possible, and now they’re revolutionizing the way public health systems are run.
What we’re talking about here is a UK program called “blood bikers,” and it’s been playing a big role in healthcare within Great Britain and Ireland for more than half a century It’s the sort of great idea that leaves you wondering: Why can’t we have that here?
What Are Blood Bikers?
Blood bikers are volunteers who use their privately owned motorcycles to deliver vaccines, medical equipment, breast milk, test results, blood and a variety of other vital medical materials from one hospital to another throughout the UK.
That’s right. They don’t travel in ambulances or marked cars — they use motorcycles, which seems like the obvious choice if you need to get time-sensitive materials from Point A to Point B.
The program is called the Nationwide Association of Blood Bikes, or NAAB.
There are currently 1,500 blood bike volunteers serving in the UK. They are organized into about 30 groups, with each group serving a specific local geographic area.
Blood Biking: A Brief History
The blood biking program began in the 1960s in the United Kingdom, in part to help redeem the “bad rap” that motorcycle enthusiasts had received over the years. The goal was to “do something for the community that would give bikers a more upbeat image.” That’s according to John Stepney, 57, who currently volunteers his time as a blood biker.
To date, the blood biker program has saved the public healthcare system in the UK the equivalent of many millions of dollars — money that would otherwise have been spent operating ambulances and paying dedicated personnel. Blood bikers assist with the most important and time-sensitive medical cases, which are expensive to oversee and administer. Blood biking not only frees up medical resources, but it also gives biking enthusiasts another excuse to explore their communities from atop their beloved motorcycles.
Why Doesn’t the United States Have Blood Bikers?
The immediate and most cynical answer is because the United States does not currently have a public healthcare system.
To put it more simply, the United States’ healthcare system is not built with this kind of volunteer mobilization in mind. Progressive Democrats in the United States are pushing for the sort of system that might be amenable to a blood biker program, or something like it, but single-payer healthcare (or Medicare For All, if you prefer that term) is not a debate that will be settled in the near future.
Nevertheless, a more immediate concern is the sheer number of legislative hurdles that would have to be overcome in the United States to make this a reality. The most obvious is that civilians are not typically entrusted with sensitive medical specimens — for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is doctor-patient confidentiality.
For now, blood bikers remain one of Great Britain’s “best-kept secrets.” Still, as word of their success and positive impact spreads, it’s quite likely that this program will be adopted elsewhere — perhaps even here in our great United States.