Tom Lynch – The BMX champion who transformed the emergency services

Tom Lynch – The BMX champion who transformed the emergency services


As part of our #HealthcareHeroes campaign we met Tom Lynch, a former BMX world champion who has used his skills in cycling to transform the way the emergency services works around the world. Tom set up the Ambulance Cycle Response Unit, an emergency response unit based on his frustrations with London traffic and the delays this had on reaching people in need, quickly.

Now, Tom can reach patients faster than any ambulance in rush hour and the use of lightweight equipment ensures that nothing slows him down.

Former BMX world superstar knew he could reach patients faster than ambulances in heavy traffic, so he decided to set up the modern day Ambulance Cycle Response Unit.

Before meeting him we had read, ‘Tom Lynch is to BMX racing what Tony Hawk is to skateboarding.’ Throughout the 1980’s and early ‘90s Tom Lynch was National Champion, British Champion, European Champion, number three in the World and a World Team Trophy Winner. He quickly became a global name on the BMX circuit competing nearly every weekend for almost 15 years from the expert classes up to the elite superclass. Nowadays he is still a global name and he’s still on a bike but it’s the healthcare services that are getting the benefit of his many skills.

“When I was 11, I had an accident at school and everyone around me was panicking. The ambulance crew arrived and calmness came with them, all the madness suddenly disappeared. I remember that day as if it were yesterday.” That day made an impact on Tom and helped shape his future. Tom had been riding for as long as he could remember, attacking the hills where he grew up on his Raleigh Chipper and Chopper and then later thrashing motocross bikes. So when the BMX trend took over in the early 1980s, Tom took to it instantly. He travelled the world as a BMXer, won numerous trophies and titles several times over, appeared on the front page of magazines, had fans on every continent and lived a life people can only dream of. He’d pushed his body to its limit and existed amongst the elite for as long as he could before stepping away from the limelight and coaching the next wave of Olympic hopefuls such as Liam Phillips and Shanaze Reade who went on to become World Champions and Olympians. “After that, well, I knew staying at the top of BMX couldn’t last forever so I decided it was the time to get a normal job but joining the ambulance service was far from normal.”

Tom trained with the London Ambulance Service, first with patient transport services then as an Emergency Medical Technician. He became increasingly frustrated with London traffic and the delays it caused to people who desperately needed care. He also knew not everyone needed to be driven to hospital by two highly qualified medical professionals. He often remarked that it would be quicker to reach people on his bike but colleagues laughed him off. He realised that a lot of people didn’t know about his biking past, but he was sure that after all this time he could still cycle faster than the London traffic in certain areas. Tom continued to talk up his idea, until in 1999 he got the go ahead for a trial to set up the Ambulance Cycle Response Unit (C.R.U.) to answer 999 calls in the West End of London. He still had friends in the bike industry and he made sure he got the best equipment available. The bike was fitted with the latest life saving equipment and the all-important, and now lightweight, defibrillator. The whole unit weighed nearly 50lbs (23kg) but this wasn’t a problem to Tom. The trial was a huge success. He said, “I knew the day the trial became a success. I was based around the West End and the calls were coming in and I was doing my best to ease the pressure on the ambulance crews. I would race to incidents, flying past traffic, cycling where motor vehicles could not go and getting to patients quickly. That particular day I went to five incidents within one hour. I treated the patients, cancelled the ambulances and used other medical centres as opposed to the accident and emergency.” According to NHS data, not all patients who call for assistance need hospital treatment, there are lots of incidents that a single medical professional with the right kit can handle. For example, Tom mentioned that, “Last week a cycle responder colleague went to ten ambulance callouts and only one patient needed an ambulance.” Clearly the C.R.U. can deliver the right patient care and can save time, money and resources which enables ambulances to deal with appropriate cases of need.

This gave Tom the ammunition he needed to take the service to the next level. He proposed plans to expand the service, create the training and policies, improve the bikes and the equipment they carried. He said, “I came up against a lot of red tape, but I’d seen the difference the cycle service could make in such a short space of time. I knew I had to keep pushing and increase the numbers on the ground.” One of the huge positives with using the bicycle was the reduction in time it took to get to heart attack victims. Every second counts when the brain is starved of oxygen and the results for preventing death from cardiac failure have significantly improved as a result of the work of the C.R.U. in the areas they work.

When we meet Tom he is fully kitted up, dark trousers, hi-vis vest and riding his custom bike. Today he manages several teams across London made up of over 100 ambulance paramedics including reserves and St John Ambulance volunteers, and is responsible for helping set up further teams around the country. The service has gone from strength to strength and they have people on the ground in lots of major UK cities, across Europe, USA and now even in China and Japan. He said, “Training can get very competitive. We have highly motivated individuals on the team such as triathletes, marathon runners, mountain bikers, cyclocross and roadracers as well as lots of fit and positive people. When you fuse this with excellent paramedic skills and a commitment to care you have a winning combination.” On his vest today there are a number of ribbons showcasing his achievements. We talk about the various forms of recognition he and the service have received, an important one being the MBE for which he was presented in 2007 for services to Bicycle Moto Cross (BMX) racing and the Ambulance Cycle Response Unit (C.R.U.) service, which he said allowed him to shout from the rooftops about the benefits of the C.R.U.

The service is making positive impacts on people’s lives on a daily basis, delivering value for money and high performance. Tom recalls the celebration they had to mark ten years of one of the C.R.U. teams. “We’d invited current and previous staff as well as people we had helped. We met one of the first people we’d treated for a cardiac arrest. He’d turned up with his grandchildren; the youngest one looked up to us and said, ‘thank you for letting me meet my Grandad.’ Those are the moments we live for, those are the gold medals.” He credits his achievements to the amazing support of those who have helped him along the way, initially his parents, brothers and sister and now his supportive and loving wife who he says, “Puts up with a lot and has done so from day one of this crazy idea.” And of course looking to the future, his two children whose love of bikes will keep Tom on his toes.

An idea that was born out of a desire to reach people faster and ease the pressure on the ambulance service and hospitals has grown into an outstanding service staffed by hundreds of well-equipped and motivated paramedics. Tom has channeled his excellent cycling and coaching skills, his self-belief and his competitive spirit to develop and deliver a life-saving service. He may have stopped winning trophies years ago, but he has won the hearts and minds of many individuals and families worldwide.

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