Square Mile cycle-paramedics become the new City-slickers

The London Ambulance Service’s traffic-busting bicycle ambulance is hitting the roads of the Square Mile.

A team of four paramedics will use the bike to attend 999 emergency calls in the City of London for a two-month trial. The bike itself is the same as those used by the successful cycle units operating in London’s West End and at Heathrow Airport which regularly reach patients before conventional ambulances.

The new bike, which is painted bright yellow and is fitted with blue lights and a siren, will be dispatched to all 999 calls in the area and, where the patient is believed to be in a life-threatening condition, will be sent at the same time as a regular ambulance crew so that the paramedic can start treatment before they arrive.

In cases where the patient is understood to be suffering from a more minor injury or illness, the bike will initially be sent on its own and then be able to request further assistance only if required—freeing up ambulances to attend other, potentially life-threatening, 999 calls elsewhere in the City.

“More than 300,000 people work in the City of London and their numbers are swelled by the several million tourists who visit the area each year,” said City Cycle Response Unit Manager Paul Davies.

“Using the bike gives us an opportunity to save potentially vital seconds in starting treatment, especially in the narrow streets which ambulances have difficulty negotiating quickly.

“Cycle-paramedics can also cancel down ambulances if they are not needed.

“In the West End, for example, we cancel about 50 per cent of ambulances when it is clear that they are not required. Cycle-paramedics can refer patients to the local NHS walk-in centre and we have forged links with the centre at Liverpool Street.”

The four riders have been trained to the International Police Mountain Bike Association (IPMBA) standard and the team’s bikes, which are fitted with blue lights and sirens, carry a range of equipment, including a heart-starting defibrillator, oxygen, pain-relieving gas, and even a maternity pack for delivering babies.

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For further information, or to arrange photos or interviews, contact Craig Macpherson at the London Ambulance Service communications department on 020 7921 5113.

Note to editors

  • The West End Cycle Response Unit regularly reaches 100 per cent of the most serious, ‘Category A’, 999 calls within eight minutes, and the Heathrow unit, 94 per cent. The Government standard for this category of call is 75 per cent.
  • The Cycle Response Unit is the model on which ambulance and police services across the world are basing their bicycle-response teams. Two police officers took the latest cycle training course, held in March, for London Ambulance Service staff.
  • The City Cycle Response Unit acknowledges the assistance of the City of London Police in providing stand-by points for the bicycle paramedics.

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, Cycle-paramedic 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 bikes 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 cardio-pulmonary 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.”