Largest ever Cycle Response Unit deployment set for London Marathon

Preparations are complete for the St John Ambulance CRU's biggest weekend

by Elliot Johnston   April 11, 2014  

St John Ambulance Cycle Responders (image via twitter user SJALondonCRU)

St John Ambulance is preparing to deploy 36 Cycle Response Units (CRU) at this weekend’s London Marathon which is understood be the largest deployment of its kind in the world.

The UK's leading first aid charity will support this weekend’s Virgin Money London Marathon with 1,200 volunteers, 36 of which will be first-responding operational cyclists.

Those 36 St John Ambulance riders will be joined on the ground by 11 cycle responders from the London Ambulance service NHS Trust.

CRUs are made up of experienced cyclists with rigorous first-aid and bike-handling training. These first-responders are known as cycle responders and are essentially lightweight ambulances.

Each operational cyclist carries with them the majority of equipment you would expect to find on an ambulance, but fall short of patient transfer capabilities.

Ashley Sweetland MBE, is the national operational cycling officer for St John Ambulance, who also runs London’s multi-award winning CRU - which is the largest of its kind in the country outside of the NHS.

He spoke to road.cc about the logistics involved in covering such a big event in the capital.

“It’s a pretty tall order,” Sweetland said. “While St John Ambulance are focusing our efforts on the marathon, it’s business as usual elsewhere in the city.

"As well as supporting all of those who are taking part in the marathon so it's a memorable event for all the right reasons, we will also support our partners in the London Ambulance service for any of the 'business-as-usual' issues that arise on the day in London.

“What we’re doing very successfully is using CRUs to respond to calls first, and often cancel the call for an ambulance. This helps ensure all ambulance resources are used effectively and lessen the impact, where we're able to, on the wider business of the NHS, which is especially important on busy days, like Sunday.”

The St John Ambulance service, like the London Ambulance Service will have a comprehensive command structure in place at gold, silver and bronze level.

The agency’s involved organise themselves like this, with gold and silver commanders responsible for the strategy and delivery of any large event, whilst Bronze officers ensure delivery on the ground. CRUs will operate under Ashley Sweetland as their lead on the ground. 

“We have significant experience of working together [with the London Ambulance service],” Sweetland said.

“Our partnership is deep and enduring and will help ensure a successful event for all involved.

“We understand that the Sunday’s deployment will be the largest of its kind in the world.”

CRUs operate throughout the country, and cover high-attendance events such as marathons and music festivals while also providing support in cities around the country.

We recently reported that the St John Ambulance were recruiting operational cyclists in Sussex and surrounding area. But, while the recruitment process is ongoing in the south, Mr Sweetland is pleased with the growth he’s seen in CRUs over the last few years.

“There’s no reverse gear on this," Sweetland said.

"It’s a growing trend on how we approach our service delivery capability and our Cycle Response Units remain hotspots for innovation.

“While we’ve seen increases in our CRU capabilities across the country and there’s no reason why we wouldn’t want to grow that capability.”

This summer will mark the 10th anniversary of the reintroduction of cycling to the St John Ambulance service, and Mr Sweetland recalled a time when the idea of an ambulance on a bike was met with raised eyebrows.

He said:  "I remember being in meetings a decade or-so ago, and people asking me: ‘You want to put an ambulance on a bike? What’s that about?’ But now it’s a well regarded part of operations.”

“History often repeats itself and I feel that we’re sort-of rediscovering our love affair with bicycles. St John Ambulance first used bicycles in the early 1900's, and here we are again. Although we don't move patients on them today."

To find out more about how you can volunteer for your local CRU head over to the St John Ambulance website.