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On Monday, medical staff and transport companies in the UK warned that the energy crisis threatened major disruptions to essential services and industry as they demanded priority access to petrol and diesel after a panicked purchase.
The scale of the fuel crisis at the UK’s 1,000,000 petrol stations prompted the government to keep the army on standby to assist in the delivery.
The ministers said British Army tanker drivers would be deployed if necessary to strengthen supply chain and ensure where fuel was most needed.
The British Medical Association said the fuel crisis meant healthcare workers were at risk of being separated from car-dependent work, while taxi and courier companies said severe shortages of petrol and diesel had caused significant disruption.
Dr Cha Chand Nagpal, chairman of the governing council of the British Medical Association, said healthcare workers needed access to fuel “whether it was to reach hospitals, practice and other healthcare settings, or to reach people in urgent need for ambulances”.
He added that “if the pumps dry up there is a real risk that NHS workers will not be able to do their job … so healthcare and essential staff must prioritize fuel.”
Christina McKenzie, general secretary of the UK’s largest public sector union, called on the government to use the “emergency power to determine the fuel station for the sole use of key staff”, including medical staff, teachers and police.
David Brown, chairman of the National Courier and Dispatch Association, a commercial organization, said delivery companies were refusing jobs and telling workers to stay home because of a lack of certainty about fuel supplies.
“It was tough,” he added. “It was frustrating for those who made a living by driving.”
Liam Griffin, chief executive of Addison Lee, which operates a fleet of 1,000,000 vehicles for courier and taxi services in central London, said it was facing a growing “challenge”.
“Like other operators in our industry, these challenges will become more significant without swift and decisive action to address energy shortages,” he added.
Industry groups representing London’s Black Cab and private-hired vehicles have called on the government to issue an emergency order to designate fuel stations for “essential users” only.
The government is coming under increasing pressure to take control of the crisis, which began with small-scale disruptions to fuel supplies due to a shortage of heavy-duty drivers, who quickly cut off supplies before car drivers panicked.
Over the weekend the government waived aspects of the competition law to help power companies reopen petrol stations and relax visa restrictions on foreign HGV drivers.
The ministers met on Monday to check the latest information at the petrol station and later announced further measures to disrupt fuel supply discipline.
Army tanker drivers will receive special training to provide fuel, although the government has not yet decided whether to deploy them.
Kwasi Kwarteng, business secretary, said the UK’s “strong supply of fuel” continued. “If needed, the supply chain of military personnel will provide additional capacity to reduce pressure due to increased local demand for fuel as a temporary measure,” he added.
Brian Maderson, president of the Petrol Retailers Association, a trade body, said members were reporting that 50 to 90 percent of the independent sites were without fuel, which was quickly refilled and filled with long lines of motorists.
“We still see panic buying at a faster rate than entering delivery,” he added.
Maderson said England’s cities and other densely populated areas were the hardest hit.
A joint statement from the government’s integrated energy industry expressed some hope that the situation would improve this week.
A statement from BP, Royal Dutch Shell and other fuel distribution companies said, “Since many vehicles are now carrying more fuel than usual, we expect demand to return to normal levels in the coming days.”
But an insider in the industry says there is a risk that motorists will continue to panic over fuel until the HGV driver shortage is eliminated.
In contrast to the fuel protests of 2000, when truck drivers ended a refinery blockade and quickly restored distribution, the labor market had an underlying problem at the time, said a consultant with extensive experience in petrol retail sales.
“However, it is likely to run longer than usual, depending on how real the driver shortage problem is,” he added.
Additional reports by Daniel Thomas, Laura Hughes and Sarah Neville
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