A ride with a cycling paramedic

Cycling paramedic

Cycling Officer Melanie Hudson – who’s role is part of British Cycling’s partnership with Hull City Council – is on a mission to get everyone in Hull riding their bikes. When she was invited recently to see a very different kind of cycling firsthand on a shift with local cycling paramedic Shaun Knott, she jumped at the chance. Here’s her take on the day...

After cycling a few circuits of city centre streets of Hull on a cold but beautiful sunny day we stop for a quick coffee to warm up. It’s at that precise moment that the first call comes in. Shaun tells the cafe ‘we'll come back to pay’, and it’s helmets on and we’re off. We flick the blue lights on the cycles and take a direct route through Queen Victoria Square. Pedestrians step out of the way when they see us coming. Hitting the road, we push our way through a major junction then onto the side path which brings us straight to the back of the housing block we’re looking for. A man is on the floor, and next to him a woman on the phone to the ambulance service. ‘It’s OK, they’re here’, she says, and hangs up. Shaun hops over the fence with his essential kit to tend to the man, and I stay with the bikes to hand over any equipment.

By car the journey would have been over a mile, but on two wheels we covered about half a mile and were there in easily under two minutes (it felt like one minute but then, the adrenaline was pumping...).

The cycling paramedic service has been running in the city for just over three years. Shaun’s light bulb moment came in 2009 when sat having a coffee in the centre of Hull, watching an ambulance struggle to access a pedestrian route. Knowing his colleagues in Leeds already had a cycling section, he took the idea to the NHS for Hull. His 22 year career in the Regular Army, and significant experience in Medic Operations, allowed him to test the response times and benefits that a cycling paramedic team could bring to the city. Shaun says: ‘It was straightforward to prove that a bike can get to locations directly and quickly, particularly moving through the clogged-up city roads and pedestrian streets. In addition to that, a bike can get to anything – for example if someone takes ill inside a shop changing room I can bring the bike with all the gear straight in with me.’

After getting the first plans approved, the bikes went into trial in winter 2009. Shaun says: ‘The weather has never stopped the bikes going out. Colleagues think it must be a great job hanging out on a bike, but when they cover the winter months they’re less enthusiastic’. For Shaun it’s less about the pleasure of cycling and more about the practicalities a bike can provide. It’s an efficient, economic and fast solution.

The bikes are fully kitted out with blue flashing lights and sirens, all the equipment that a first response needs. The kit is heavy – I had a go with the 50kg pack on the back and it certainly takes balance and speed. But it keeps you fit, and Shaun has never missed a response time target when he’s on the bike. 

In addition to meeting ambulance response targets there are many more benefits to having a cycle responder. Rising fuel costs and repairs to vehicles, for a start. Shaun has spent about £40 in the last year to keep two bikes going. The environmental benefits also fit with Hull’s green city image. And in terms of staff fitness, the ambulance service providers have a very physical job and wellbeing is paramount. We all know the benefits of cycling, and setting an example of keeping fit and healthy looks great for everyone. Finally, something that doesn’t always spring to mind – when was the last time you actually had a chat with your local paramedic? Shaun’s got great relationships with the local police, CCTV, retailers, council staff and shopping centres. He represents his team in an accessible way and talks to people about his work. Often he finds he doesn’t get a ‘call’, but someone will come and grab him to attend a local incident when he’s on the bike.

I’m so glad I had the chance to spend some time with Shaun. I’ve got huge admiration for the work he and his colleagues do. And it’s great to see that once again, and for so many reasons, the bicycle is the perfect solution.