Police and paramedics are using bicycles to relieve pressure on the emergency services during the Christmas period.
By Helen-Ann Smith, Sky News, Monday 31 December 2018
Image: Police and paramedics use bicycles
It is a bitterly cold night, one of the coldest of the Christmas season.
One of those nights where you can feel the damp in the back of your lungs. It's really not the sort of night you'd want to spend 12 hours cycling around central London.
But that's exactly what Callum, a paramedic with London Ambulance, and Stu, a sergeant with the City of London Police, are doing.
Every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night in December, a police officer and a paramedic from the two forces head out together on two wheels, attending incidents within the square mile of the City of London.
At Bishopsgate police station, Callum said: "It is one of the most incredible things.
"I'm out and about on my bike, I get to see London and I get to keep fit.
"I have all the same equipment an ambulance has, the only thing I don't have is a stretcher.
"I've got needles, all the medications, dressings, a defibrillator, everything I need to treat a life-threatening emergency."
It is not long until the first call comes in: a woman in her 20s has been seen stumbling onto the road.
She has not been seriously hurt but is very drunk and may have used drugs.
Within minutes Stu and Callum are on their bikes, helmets on, bicycle blue sirens flashing. They move through the traffic with impressive agility - Callum's bike weighs over 70kg, but he rides as if it's a lightweight road bike.
Although it's nearly 10pm on a Friday night, the roads are still busy but Stu knows all the shortcuts and we are there in less than 10 minutes.
The woman is slumped in a doorway and although she tells the team her name, she is too drunk to remember where she lives. The men take her inside a nearby building lobby out of the cold and Callum checks her over.
As she sobers up a little she becomes quite agitated and a check on her name shows she has a history of violence towards police. They want to get her a taxi home (she doesn't need an ambulance) but they can't just let her go - she's a danger to herself. They have to wait until she reveals her address.
"It's a frustrating call," says Stu.
"But having said that, it's the busiest Friday of the year so at least it's us here dealing with this, keeping other officers on the street."
This is the primary aim of the joint cycle response unit: to deal with the lower-level incidents, usually drunk people with minor injuries who need medical attention but not an ambulance.
During December, the pressure on the London Ambulance Service is rated severe - only one level below that required for a major incident. All training and non-essential meetings are cancelled to increase the number of people available to work.
At this time of year non-life-threatening cases could wait two hours or more for an ambulance - the cycle unit means they don't have to.
Eventually the woman is sober enough to tell the team where she lives and she is put in a taxi home. It's the collaboration of the two emergency services that makes the scheme so successful in cases like this.
"As police officers we can't sign people off if they're hurt," says Stu.
"We're not qualified to diagnose and deal with that, if we've got a paramedic with us they can deal with it and nine times out of 10, people don't need an ambulance and we can call a cab and get them home."
It was Stu who set up the joint cycle response scheme two Christmasses ago, inspired by the success of the police and London ambulance cycle units. In that time he estimates the scheme has saved at least 150 ambulance callouts.
While patrolling the streets, the team notice a confrontation outside a night club. The bouncer is restraining one man on the ground while the other is shouting and agitated.
Stu tries to calm the situation while Callum makes sure no one is hurt. The incident turns out to have been little more than a scuffle. No crime has been committed and, once calmed, neither party wants to make an official complaint.
Had Stu not been passing it's likely the nightclub would have called the police - unnecessarily escalating a minor incident and using up scarce police time. Ordinary ambulance crews and police vans rarely have the time to patrol at this time of year.
The final incident of the night is a call to a man in his sixties taken ill outside the police station. He is very unsteady on his feet and a pain down his right arm is causing him concern. He's not seriously ill but takes a taxi to the hospital for further checks.
It's precisely the sort of case the unit is designed to deal with.
Callum says: "Every time an ambulance shows up it costs upwards of £500.
"There's more that goes into it than just the ambulance: it's the people who are working in the control room, the fleets and everyone else behind the scenes, so working on bikes saves the NHS and especially the London Ambulance Service so much money."
In seven hours the team attended six calls. Not a single one required an ambulance. In fact in over 90% of the incidents they attended this year an ambulance call out was prevented - a significant saving at a time of immense pressure on the emergency services.