NARU Insight: a closer look at the UK’s first dedicated Ambulance Special Operations Motorcycle Response Unit


By Scott King, Special Operations, EPRR, Motorcycle Response Officer, South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust

“The South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust is one of the largest geographical ambulance trusts in the UK covering in excess of 9,000 square miles. It serves a regional population of around 5.47 million people, which increases by nearly 17.5 million through seasonal visitors.

There has always been some form of motorcycle response in ambulance services, right back to the first world war but in 2016 the Trust made the decision to restructure and organise a team of these to increase the bike’s benefit and maximise the efficiency of responding on two wheels.

Therefore in August 2016 the UK’s first dedicated Ambulance Special Operations, Motorcycle Response Unit (or MRU) was launched. A non-core resource, not attached to any one of the Trust’s four sub-regional localities, allows for rapid deployment to where it can be of most use, without depleting any one area. Movements can also be planned and relocated in advance of anticipated disruption or increased demand because of large public events or increased volume to the road networks – such as bank holiday getaways.


Each rider is individually equipped to operate the BMW Authorities specification BMW RT1200 and has undergone the demanding three-week motorcycle responder course which teaches all aspects of road craft and emergency motorcycle response before later progressing onto advanced techniques and ongoing refreshers.

The equipment carried is what you would expect from any paramedic responder, albeit in either smaller sizes or quantities. One aspect of care that was limited prior to forming was patient monitoring, in particular end tidal CO2 and 12 lead ECG. Being highly restricted by weight and dimensions several products were examined and the MRU designed a bespoke bag and began carrying Schiller’s Defiguard Touch 7. This has meant being compliant with the latest recommendations in clinical care provision to safely respond and manage the most seriously unwell patients.

The MRU has its own specialist deployment plan that not only ensures a business as usual response to all category 1 and 2 calls but it supplements specialist responses by working alongside the Trust’s Critical Care service, Hazardous Area Response Team (HART) and is a response asset under the Trust’s Emergency Preparedness, Resilience and Response (EPRR) management team. Whether this is to support carbon monoxide screening, carried by MRU or support to multi casualty incidents or key events.


EPRR management has meant being able to work in conjunction with a specialist dispatcher who oversees all Trust wide activity and specialist assets who can relocate us to areas that may be experiencing difficulty in reaching our patients. Incidents that either close roads, cause large diversions or congestion might have already been dealt with by a primary ambulance response but the disruptive effects of us being able to navigate and reach other patients around these areas may be longer lasting. This is where the MRU can quickly deploy to maintain and provide real time continuity to our normal 999 response.

Following a successful trial with Avon and Somerset Police Roads Policing the MRU’s Operation Transform was accepted and agreed at the South West Emergency Services Collaborative Working Group this year. This sees motorcycle paramedics focus responses to the Strategic Road Networks of the South West at key scheduled times and utilises interoperable communications with the Police Traffic Controller.

This allows us to rapidly respond to incidents and provide the most efficient clinical response but also a decision-making response. Quickly assessing when patients do not need managed extrication from vehicles or where patients could instead be relocated off motorways and prevent additional ambulances being sent. This allows traffic to return to normal in the quickest time and limits all responders’ exposure to the dangers of fast road working. This helps to reduce congestion which can otherwise cause delays in general Trust response but if left to build can increase the likelihood of subsequent incidents either through ‘rubber-neckers’ or by road users not being prepared for unexpected delays and becoming unwell in queues of traffic. This is the first time the South Western Ambulance has really looked at new ways to contribute to the CLEAR agenda.

We have already relocated throughout the region, from our main base in Bristol over 150 times in advance of specific events last year, like Glastonbury, Bournemouth Air and Cheltenham Festivals; not counting numerous marathons or cycle tours. The benefits of being aimed to key areas has seen quicker responses and reduced demand on wider operational resources.


During the times when we have either experienced floods or snow in the region then all of the team adapt to respond anywhere that’s required in a fleet of 4×4 vehicles but the times we’ve left our two-wheel friends indoors has been minimal, maintaining a 7 day service and now being one of the busiest and most ridden motorcycle response teams in the UK. As we leave winter and head into the key time for large events it is looking set to be another busy operational year ahead.

Without the scope of being under the EPRR team then the dynamic, adaptable and responsive nature of the MRU team wouldn’t be as effective. The MRU is a resource for any commander to request, but having the freedom and scope within the unit to relocate has meant being more than just a nearest and quickest responder but recognises the agility and flexibility of two wheeled response and how this can benefit the patients we seek to serve.”

Some related coverage:

ITV News

SWAST News

Plymouth Herald

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