They’ve felt woozy after a friendly nurse siphons a pint of the red stuff from their arm, and wobbled unsteadily back to work after popping down to the local church hall in their lunch hour.
Millions of people give blood every year, but who really thinks about what happens to it after they have donated?
Collecting blood from donors is only the beginning of the vital work carried out by the National Blood Service (NBS) fleet. Each unit then embarks on a complex and time-critical journey.
Donated blood is driven to one of 15 blood centres around England. The Manchester centre alone serves 45 hospitals in the region. Each unit is tested for disease and then broken down into its component parts by white-coated experts. The platelets, red cells, white cells and plasma is then repackaged and sent out to hospitals around the country.
So the smooth running of the NBS’s 500-strong fleet is vital to the operation. If the transport infrastructure breaks down, hospitals get no blood and with transfusions accounting for more than 8,000 units nationally every day, it spells disaster for the nation.
The fleet currently consists of 60 blue-light Ford Focus estates for emergency deliveries and 120 short and long-wheelbase Ford Transit delivery vans. There are 20 liveried Focus estates for marketing purposes and 30 refrigerated vans for standard deliveries. There are also 120 Iveco Daily vans and assorted trucks and coaches for transporting equipment and staff.
National fleet manager Larry Bannon oversees the operation from his office in Manchester. Based just yards from the NBS laboratories, he controls vehicles from Newcastle to Plymouth, together with his fleet operations assistant, national fleet controller and national fleet engineer.
Bannon’s career in fleet stretches back many years, from his beginnings as a mechanic and, after a move to Canada, becoming fleet manager for the local authority in Scarborough, near Toronto.
He then spent 10 years managing a 700-strong highways maintenance fleet called Prismo. Bannon took over the NBS fleet four years ago, and was not impressed initially.
He said: ‘It had just moved to being a national operation and it was far from a national service.
‘There was a northern region, the Midlands and South West and a London and South East region.
‘The regions were independent of each other, and within those regions the blood centres were fairly independent as well.
‘I inherited a 500-strong fleet from cars to 38-tonne trailer units. There were 12 different marques, from GMC to Dodge and Mitsubishi. Specifications of the vehicles were all varied and inconsistent.
‘One of my first jobs was to get a handle on the fleet. We had no fleet management systems at all. It was either paper-driven or, at best, a spreadsheet database. We weren’t benefiting from economies of scale.’
Bannon formed a vehicle working party with members drawn from a cross section of the NBS, from drivers to management.
He said: ‘Within the first year we standardised the type of vehicles we needed to do a particular job and the specification of that vehicle.’
Acutely aware that not everyone in business has the inclination to attend meetings about the specification of vans, Bannon came up with an effective motivational approach.
‘I wanted to keep them coming back, so we went to a number of manufacturing facilities and held our meetings there,’ he said.
‘We went to Ford’s Special Vehicles Preparations Centre and Land Rover. It was interesting for everyone, kept attendance very high, ensured maximum representation across the workforce and ensured we specified vehicles that were fit for their purpose.
It was important to get ownership from the people that drive them.’
The fleet is now made up of vehicles from Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Iveco and Leyland Daf and controlled by cfc solutions’ Fleet Plus software.
Bannon said: ‘We wanted to give a national identity so the whole of the livery was standardised as well. Now a Transit van in Newcastle looks exactly the same as the vans in Plymouth.’
There are more than aesthetic advantages to vehicle uniformity.
‘If we need to put extra resources into a different part of the country for a crisis we need to know we can call in drivers and not have them say ‘I’ve not been trained on this vehicle,’ Bannon said.
Such standardisation also brings with it the benefits of economies of scale, saving money.
Fuel, all diesel, comes mainly from a bunkered supply, managed via a fuel card that can also be used on forecourts. Of the 15 blood centres, 12 will have bunkered fuel by the end of 2005.
Bannon said: ‘Bunkering is cheaper than on the forecourt and if there is a fuel crisis we’ve fuel readily available. Most of our fleet is running biodiesel and we should move over completely in October.’
Such moves, combined with drives to reduce mileage and CO2 emissions have earned the NBS three stars in the Motorvate scheme run by the Energy Savings Trust. The hope is to progress to the fourth star.
In four years most of the fleet has been replaced, with a target set for a three-and-a-half year lifecycle and a complete replacement of vehicles by next year. Acquisition is changing from outright purchase to leasing through Automotive Leasing, and maintenance has been outsourced to Lex Transfleet. Key performance indicators and constant monitoring of performance by Bannon ensures standards are kept high.
All new drivers are given thorough driver training, and a deal with a major training firm is to be announced soon.
The NBS fleet has been selected as an example of good practice by the Department for Transport.
Bannon said: ‘I’m lucky, I had a blank canvas, which has enabled me to build up my department and hand-pick my team.
‘We’ve now got a newer fleet with more reliability, economy and vastly improved image, which gives our drivers and stockholders confidence that side of the organisation is well managed. It’s good PR.’