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Wednesday, 13 September, 2000, 19:02 GMT 20:02 UK
Fuel crisis brings chaos to NHS
The fuel crisis is bringing chaos to hospitals, ambulance services and pharmacies across Britain.
Several hospitals have already cancelled all routine operations. One hospital in Yorkshire has ruled out seeing patients for non-emergency treatments until next week.
Many ambulance services across the country are only able to answer emergency calls. In Surrey, ambulances are unable to respond to 999 calls until they receive extra supplies of petrol.
The impact of staff being unable to get to work is hitting some hospitals hard. Heart operations were cancelled at Bristol NHS Trust because nurses and doctors were unable to get into work.
Food, medicines and blood are also in short supply. Royal Hull Hospital has no stitches for operations. Some hospitals in the East of England have only four days supply of blood. Pharmacies in Portsmouth are running out of drugs.
Other hospitals are unable to dispose of clinical waste - a major public health risk.
The National Blood Authority said it was coping but it added: "There remain some significant problems in some parts of the country.
"The longer this continues the greater the difficulties the National Blood Service will face."
Christine Hancock, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said the situation was "very serious indeed".
"In a health service that is already very stretched, very short of staff just a small number of staff not being able to get to work will have a real impact in many cases."
Health chiefs and hospital managers throughout Britain have held emergency meetings to cope with the crisis.
Fuel has been delivered to some garages, with hospital workers and other key NHS staff being given priority.
However, the number of oil tankers leaving refineries remains low and hospitals are drawing up contingency plans to deal with all eventualities.
District nurses in one region have been told to use bicycles to visit patients.
In Wiltshire, hospitals are coming under increasing pressure.
Jeremy Hallett, chief executive of Wiltshire Health Authority, said: "The ambulance service has now moved on to emergency and serious cases only.
"It looks like our local hospitals will be able to continue to provide a service for about another 24 hours and they will equally be moving into an emergency service."
In Bolton, a spokeswoman for the Royal Bolton NHS Trust said the hospital was pinning its hopes on staff receiving emergency supplies of fuel.
"The hospital is working to set up an identity system for its staff to enable them to be given priority for fuel."
Cambridgeshire Health Authority was making arrangements to ensure essential workers such as GPs and health and care workers could get petrol.
Spokesman Harper Brown said: "It is vital that essential drivers such as GPs, district nurses and social care workers can get fuel to enable them to continue their work.
"We are arranging for a list of key workers who will be issued with clear signs for their vehicles identifying them as a priority. "Suppliers will be approached to ensure that these drivers are supplied with fuel so they can maintain services."
Access to fuel
The London Ambulance Service said none of its vehicles had been taken off the road and that it had access to fuel.
A spokeswoman told BBC News Online: "We are in regular contact with our contracted fuel supplier and have received assurances that emergency vehicles will continue to be given priority at filling stations across London."
But other NHS staff are experiencing problems.
A spokesman in London's regional NHS office said: "Judging by what is happening in other parts of the country, within 24 hours we could have patients stuck in hospital because their relatives cannot collect them and nursing homes closing because staff can't get to work."
Anne Duffy, of the Community and District Nursing Association, said: "District nurses have had to queue at the local petrol stations. Most of them have been unable to get extra petrol.
"Some trusts have instructed their staff to travel by bicycle. That is fine if you are working within a few streets, but our staff work in a wide geographical spread, a lot of them in rural communities."
One GP in Northants is planning to conduct her house calls on horseback when her petrol supplies run out.
The director of public health for the south west of England arrived at Avonmouth dock to explain to demonstrators the problems fuel shortages were causing the NHS.
Dr Gabriel Scally said hospitals across the region had been hit hard with some having to cancel surgery and others stopping out-patients coming in.
He said to the protesters: "In several places across the region staff are having enormous difficulties particularly in some of the more isolated parts like Cornwall."
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