Cancer patients have had vital appointments delayed owing to the fuel crisis, it has emerged, following calls for NHS staff to be given priority at petrol stations.
Hospitals said there was not enough fuel to bring patients in for consultations after petrol pumps ran dry, motorists continued to queue for hours to fill up their cars, and one driver was filmed threatening a fellow motorist with a knife.
Ministers on Tuesday night formally approved plans to bring in the army following days of chaos with around 150 military drivers expected to be ready to drive fuel trucks to gas stations across the country within days.
Boris Johnson, breaking his days-long silence on the crisis, has moved to calm fears by saying there were signs the worst was over, and insisting that plans were in place to ensure there were no shortages at Christmas.
UK has fewer pumps than EU countries
"On the forecourts the situation is stabilising and people should be confident and just go about their business in the normal way," the Prime Minister said.
He added that moves were already being taken to ensure that supplies will not be squeezed in the run-up to Christmas after concerns of empty shelves because of the shortage of lorry drivers.
Mr Johnson said: "I know how frustrating and worrying it must have been to worry about a shortage of petrol and fuel.
"We are now starting to see the situation improve. We are hearing from industry that supplies are coming back on to the forecourts in the normal way.
"What we want to do is to make sure we have the preparations necessary to get through to Christmas and beyond, not just in the supply of our petrol stations but all parts of our supply chain."
‘Reduced the country to chaos’
Sir Keir Starmer joined calls for key workers such as doctors to be given priority access to petrol stations as he criticsed the Government’s handling of the crisis.
"The Government has reduced the country to chaos as we track from crisis to crisis. The Government is not gripping this," Sir Keir told BBC News.
"This problem was predictable and predicted and the Government has absolutely failed to plan."
Charities and health leaders warned that the scale of panic buying was already putting lives at risk after cancer appointments at University College Hospital (UCLH), one of London’s largest hospitals, were postponed.
A UCLH spokesperson confirmed a “small number” of non-urgent appointments were being rearranged due to the crisis.
“Owing to the national fuel supply we are rearranging a small number of outpatient appointments over the next few days for patients who are due to be brought into our hospitals by our non-emergency patient transport provider, offering virtual appointments where possible,” the spokesman told The Guardian.
Hospital consultants were also said to be prevented from coming into work, while appointments were also cancelled in Portsmouth.
“We had an emergency discussion this morning. 2 consultants in our department are out and can’t get to work. 2 others on reserve. All 4 petrol stations within 4 miles of our hospital are closed with no fuel,” one doctor wrote on social media.
Last week, a major report warned it could already take more than a decade to clear the backlog of cancer treatments that built up during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Dr David Wrigley, deputy chair of the British Medical Association, has called on the Government to urgently make a plan to deal with the chaos.
He told Sky News: “We can’t be waiting in queues for two or three houses for diesel or petrol when we have patients to see. We do need a system in place, as we have had no information at all about how we get around this problem, how we deal with it if our fuel is running very very low and we have patients to see.”
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) – which represents 465,000 nurses, midwives, nursing support workers and students – also backed calls for health and care workers to be prioritised in light of the supply issues “or patient care will be compromised”.
Q&A Fuel Crisis
However, senior NHS figures are understood to be reluctant to call for priority at the pumps for frontline health workers, The Telegraph understands.
One source said trusts had enough stored fuel to keep ambulances moving, and suggested that prioritising key workers risked provoking further public concern.
This came as the Defence Secretary signed off on plans to permit 150 military personnel to drive tankers containing fuel. Ben Wallace gave the green light to the MACA request submitted by Kwasi Kwarteng, who requested the help of the Armed Forces to assist in the petrol fiasco.
The military personnel will be tri service and accompanied by a further 150 "driver’s mates" for wellbeing purposes, The Telegraph understands.
Defence sources stressed there is no guarantee that they will be driving the tankers this week. They added that they will need to undergo training by whichever company requests their assistance which “could take a few days”.
Government boost for HGV drivers
Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, yesterday urged people not to take water bottles to the petrol stations to fill them up, warning of the dangers involved.
He said: “We all need to play our part and certainty don’t do things like bring water bottles to petrol stations. It’s dangerous and extremely unhelpful.”
A Government source working on the crisis stressed there were early signs of improvement, though it remains unclear how long it will take for queues to fully disappear at the pumps.
“It does look like demand is falling back a bit more to normal levels,” the Government source told The Daily Telegraph last night.
“There has been an increase in the amount of fuel reaching the forecourts. At some point those lines will match up.”