Government urged to prioritise health and care workers at petrol stations amid 'two-hour queues'

Ministers say there is no fuel shortage but the empty pumps are being driven by panic buying. Credit: PA

The government is being urged to prioritise emergency and essential workers at petrol stations amid chaos at the pumps.

Queues were again seen snaking round fuel stations across the country on Tuesday, as ministers and industry bosses insisted there would be enough fuel to go around if motorists stopped panic buying.

Health and care workers said on social media they are having to join the back of queues when they want to fill up - meaning some are as much as two hours late to tend to patients.

Sarah Plunkett, a carer, told ITV News she's been finishing her shift and then driving around into the early hours of the morning to try and get fuel.

'Those patients will go without if we don't have the petrol to fulfil our jobs daily'

"On Friday night I went out at half past midnight to the local garage and I could not believe the queues," she said.

"It's so important [we have fuel]. We're visiting vulnerable patients every day who need our service [...] those patients will go without if we don't have the petrol to fulfil our jobs daily."

Ministers announced on Monday that soldiers were being put on standby and given specialised training to deliver fuel to ease the chaos on supply chains.

The move came amid concerns a shortage of tanker drivers was threatening the ability of the oil companies to maintain supplies.

Other measures that have already been implemented include suspending competition laws to target areas in need of more fuel supply, and granting 5,000 three-month visas to foreign HGV drivers amid a shortage of hauliers.

But leading unions are calling on the government to urgently use emergency powers to designate petrol stations solely for essential workers to minimise disruption to care.

The British Medical Association (BMA) said "there is a real risk that NHS staff won’t be able to do their jobs", while the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said healthcare services “cannot afford to lose any more staff because they’re unable to travel”.

Dr David Wrigley, deputy chair of the BMA council, described the situation as "critical" on Tuesday and said health and care workers should be “worrying about patients and not their fuel dial”.

“We can’t be waiting two or three hours in a queue for fuel when we have patients to see, so we’re calling on the government to act today, to put a plan in place and let us know what’s happening," he told Times Radio.

Cars queue for fuel at a BP petrol station in Bracknell, Berkshire Credit: PA

Campaign group EveryDoctor said at least one NHS organisation in Bedfordshire held an emergency meeting on Monday after staff were unable to attend.

A hospital consultant told the organisation, which represents about 1,700 doctors, that "all four petrol stations within four miles of our hospital are closed with no fuel”.

ITV News UK Editor Paul Brand went out on the road on Tuesday morning with a carer named Michelle, who had to start her shift an hour early just to try and get petrol.

At 7am, they hit a long queue at a petrol station - meaning she was an hour late to visit her first patient, an elderly woman named Vera who is bed bound.

"We couldn't get through the traffic to get to vulnerable clients," she told ITV News.

"It has had a big knock on effect because we can't sit in traffic to get fuel because we have clients waiting for medication or food."

Michelle described how the gridlock has prevented her from seeing vulnerable clients- some of whom are bedbound

When Michelle finally managed to get to Vera's home, she had been lying in a wet bed for an hour.

Health and care workers have been sharing their plights on social media of having to drive around for between 45 minutes to two hours before and after shifts to find fuel.

A frustrated ambulance driver uploaded an image at a petrol station saying she was "low on fuel and struggling to find somewhere that isn’t sold out", while a pharmacist said he would be unable to open his store.

One nurse said she had been driving around for 45 minutes visiting seven different petrol stations after a long night shift. Another said his partner - a district nurse - had to get up two hours earlier before work to try and find fuel as there is "no plan B" if they can't make it.

Social media users have also been reporting some petrol stations have begun to prioritise key workers at the pumps themselves.

The Automobile Association (AA) said over the weekend that garages were giving priority access to essential workers - but the Homecare Association said there is "only patchy prioritisation".

“In previous fuel strikes, local authorities have been able to arrange for scarce fuel to be prioritised for essential users," said CEO Jane Townson.

She called on the government to "declare there is an issue so that local authorities can invoke their civil contingency plans".

Currently, there is no blanket rule enforced on garages to offer priority access to essential workers, but a number of stations have reportedly taken it upon themselves to move health and care workers to the front of the queue.