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Partnership agreement with BAA clears Heathrow bicycle-ambulance unit for take-off

A deal has been struck between the London Ambulance Service and BAA, the company which owns and operates Heathrow Airport, that will guarantee an extension of life-saving bicycle-ambulance patrols in four of the transport hub’s passenger terminals for the next five years.

The partnership agreement, worth £250,000 per year, came into operation on 1 May. It sees an increase to three in the number of bicycle-ambulance medics on duty during the day and an increase in the total number of ambulance staff employed on the Heathrow Airport Cycle Response Unit to six.

“In contrast to a normal contract, the partnership will result in a greater level of flexibility in how we deploy our cycle-medics,” said Heathrow Cycle Response Unit Manager Alan Payne. “This will include BAA keeping us informed of the dates and times that the Airport is likely to be at its busiest. On peak travel days, such as bank holidays, we will be able to react to higher passenger numbers, and the potentially higher number of 999 calls, by putting more bicycle ambulances on duty.”

Commenting on the partnership agreement, BAA Deputy Director of Customer Service Giles Price said: “We are committed to the safety and security of all of our passengers at London Heathrow. In the last 18 months, we have observed just how effective the bicycle ambulances have been at treating those passengers who have been taken ill and view this partnership with the London Ambulance Service as the best way to extend that commitment.”

The immediate access to passengers afforded by the bicycles in the interior precincts and corridors of the terminal buildings has already helped to save lives since its trial inception in August 2004, including that of a young woman passenger from America who collapsed and went into cardiac arrest—an incident captured on camera and later broadcast, with her permission, on BBC Television’s prime-time ‘Airport’ programme.

In another instance, a 53-year-old British Airways employee, and father of four, cheated death after collapsing at work when the quick response and treatment by a Heathrow-based bicycle-ambulanceman saved his life (please refer to the case study at the foot of this news release for further details).

The Heathrow Airport Cycle Response Unit is an extension of the team originally launched in 2002 in central London where bicycles have reduced emergency medical response times to patients in pedestrianised areas. In both locations, the bicycle-ambulance medics, after assessing the patient’s condition, have been able to cancel the ambulance dispatched with them in cases where it has not been needed. This has resulted in ambulance crews in both surrounding areas being freed immediately to attend to more seriously ill or injured patients in genuine need of immediate treatment and transport to hospital.

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Note to editors

  • The Heathrow Cycle Response Unit reached 93.6 per cent of the most serious, ‘Category A’, 999 calls within eight minutes. The Government target for this category of call is 75 per cent.
  • The Unit operates on 11-hour shifts (5.30am until 4.30pm), seven days a week.
    The Service is aware of only one other international airport, Vancouver, which has a bicycle-ambulance team.
  • Approximately 67 million passengers use Heathrow Airport each year.
  • The bicycles are sent to all types of calls within the airport and, where the patient is believed to be in a life-threatening condition, it is sent at the same time as an ambulance so that treatment can be started before the crew arrives.
  • In cases where the patient is believed to be suffering from a more minor injury or illness, a bicycle paramedic or emergency medical emergency technician is sent initially on his own and can then request further assistance if required—freeing up ambulances to attend other, potentially life-threatening, 999 calls in and around the airport.
  • All Cycle Response Unit riders have been trained to the International Police Mountain Bike Association (IPMBA) standard. Applicants to the team face rigorous fitness tests in addition to special tuition in subjects as varied as bike-handling and nutrition before being recruited.
  • The bicycles themselves are the same as those used by the traffic-busting bicycle unit already working in and around the West End of London.
  • Medical kit carried in the high-visibility yellow panniers that straddle both wheels of the bicycles is both comprehensive and lightweight. Designed to London Ambulance Service specifications, it includes a heart-starting defibrillator, bag-and-mask resuscitator, blood-pressure monitor, burns dressings, oxygen and pain-relieving gas cylinders, and even a maternity pack for delivering babies.
  • The Cycle Response Unit is the model on which ambulance and police services, the world over, are basing their bicycle-response teams. Two police officers took the latest cycle training course, held in March, for London Ambulance Service staff.


The photograph issued with this news release shows BAA Deputy Director of Customer Service Giles Price (centre) with Heathrow Cycle Response Unit Manager Alan Payne and Cycle Paramedic Katherine Pemberton.

Case study

In August 2005, Graham Clark, a British Airways customer service arrivals agent, had been sitting with his work colleagues in a rest room at Heathrow Airport’s Terminal One when he suffered severe pain in his chest and arms. Within seconds, he lost consciousness and stopped breathing. His British Airways colleagues immediately dialled 999 for an ambulance and began attempts to resuscitate him.

“All I can remember is getting up from the sofa and saying to my colleagues that my chest and arm hurt,” explained Mr Clark. “After that, everything went blank.”

Within seconds of the 999 call being made, Bicycle Emergency Medical Technician Mick Hampson reached Mr Clark. Mick was able to continue resuscitation and re-start Mr Clark’s heart after three attempts using the portable defibrillator that is carried on ambulance bicycles.

Paramedics, dispatched in an ambulance at the same time as the bicycle ambulance, arrived a few minutes later to continue treatment and take Mr Clark to Hillingdon Hospital.

“I was definitely in the right place at the right time,” said Mick, “but this resuscitation—along with the others we attend here—shows how well-suited bicycles are to reaching patients quickly inside the Airport.

“The fact that we are based here and were able to get to him so quickly, most probably made the difference between life and death.”

Mick emphasised the importance of quick intervention when someone suffers a cardiac arrest and took the opportunity to remind members of the public that they can learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) at free ‘Heartstart’ classes given across the capital by the London Ambulance Service, and supported by the British Heart Foundation.

“Effective CPR ‘buys’ time for a patient and doubles a person’s chances of survival,” he said.

Guidelines published by the American Heart Association state that for every minute of delay in getting to a patient in cardiac arrest, the chances of successful resuscitation decrease by 10 per cent.

After a period of convalescence in hospital and at home, Mr Clark returned to work part-time at Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 1 only two months after suffering his cardiac arrest.

“I’m so grateful to Mick and to my BA colleagues who have looked after me so well,” said Mr Clark. “It’s as if I’ve been given a second chance.”

A photograph of Mr Clark being reunited with Emergency Medical Technician Mick Hampson at Heathrow is available from Craig Macpherson at the London Ambulance Service communications department on 020 7921 5113.