Staff shortages, cancelled activities, missed hospital appointments: Britain’s fuel supply crisis is biting at care facilities like Chipstead Lake, a home for adults with physical disabilities.
As the country enters a second week of delivery shortfalls and long lines at petrol stations, key workers in sectors such as residential care have been left exasperated – and demanding prioritisation.
Some have missed shifts after lacking the fuel to drive to work, while others have been forced to spend hours searching or queuing for available petrol, adding fatigue and stress to an already gruelling profession.
Linda Addo, manager at Chipstead Lake in Kent, southeast England, and another nearby nursing home, said the problems were impacting residents.
“They were important hospital appointments and they missed them because we just didn’t have the drivers,” she told AFP.
A quarter of staff did not make it to a recent morning shift at the other nursing home for 40 adults requiring more specialised care in neighbouring East Sussex, she added.
“It affects the residents because then they will have to wait longer for care and also for the staff who are on shift (and) will have to work more, so they will get exhausted,” said Addo.
Staff who can get to work are “doing two people’s jobs”.
“Some (vulnerable residents) need three people to give them personal care… they rely on staff for basically everything,” she said.
“Whether it will get better, I don’t know. It’s quite an anxious time… it’s unsettling for everyone.”
‘Shut in again’
The crisis began late last week when a small number of petrol stations closed due to supply issues caused by a shortage of tanker drivers, triggering a rush for the pumps.
The government and industry insist there is no actual shortage of fuel, but the ramped-up demand has continued, and troops are set to start making deliveries from Friday.
At Chipstead Lake, relatives of some of the 24 residents have been unable to visit, while the home’s two vehicles – a minibus and a car – used for day trips have been grounded to conserve petrol.
“Boxing’s been cancelled, shopping’s been cancelled, we take them out for coffees and cake: their whole lives have been impacted,” said Barrie-Anne Dowling, the facility administrator.
“They’re not happy about their boxing being cancelled… it’s quite sad because it’s something they really enjoy,” she added of the weekly trips to a local club where they use punchbags for exercise and as a social activity.
“The last thing they want is to be shut in again, after two years of Covid, and not being able to go anywhere or see anyone. It’s repeating it again.”
‘How on earth’?
The crisis is also taking its toll on the facility’s staff.
“It’s been a struggle for me to get here – I’ve had to miss a few days off work because I couldn’t get any fuel,” said Emi Macaulay, a support worker.
The 35-year-old lives around 27km away, and driving is the only way to reach the waterside home in an isolated semi-rural setting.
Early morning and late-night searches and queues for petrol have been “really stressful”, she said.
“Is this going to last until Christmas? I don’t even know,” she added.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said this week there was no need for key workers to get privileged access to pumps because the crisis was easing.
But with no let-up in queues or demand, some petrol stations have decided to introduce exclusive periods of time for staff in critical sectors.
Chipstead Lake general assistant Sandra, 63, who only gave her first name, has had to walk nearly an hour to reach the facility from home.
She said she did not understand the government decision.
“Some people do need some help… especially health workers,” she added. “I came in today and I thought, ‘how on earth are they running it?'”