Public services start to feel the bite

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The Independent Online

Large swaths of the country faced an unprecedented fuel drought today caused by panic buying, a very non-British militancy and the most widespread public protests since the poll-tax riots.

Large swaths of the country faced an unprecedented fuel drought today caused by panic buying, a very non-British militancy and the most widespread public protests since the poll-tax riots.

As motoring organisations predicted that petrol stations across the country were in danger of running out of fuel by tonight, public services were already being disrupted by fuel shortages.

NURSES were having real difficulty reaching sick patients with many, particularly those working in the community, unable to make even basic house calls, their union said.

Christine Hancock, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: "We need urgent plans from the Department of Health to ensure that nurses can carry on treating patients many of whom rely on them for their day-to-day care."

AMBULANCE services in some areas were suspending non-emergency calls in order to conserve fuel and concentrate on 999 calls.

Phil Spence, director of operations for the Scottish Ambulance Service, said: "In the event of further shortages, we will need to work together with our NHS partners to plan ahead to ensure that Accident and Emergency and high dependency non-emergency patients are cared for, but we might need to postpone some non-emergency appointments in some areas."

TEACHERS caught out by fuel shortages were having difficulty in travelling into schools. Essex County Council said it was going to get more and more difficult for schools to stay open if the blockades and shortages continued.

Nigel de Gruchy, of the NASUWT teaching union, claimed teachers at schools in toke-on-Trent and Wales had been threatened with having their pay docked if they were unable to get to school because of the petrol shortages.

FUNERAL directors called for undertakers to be included in Government contingency plans for distributing fuel for essential services, fearing they might otherwise not be able to perform funeral services or to collect bodies from homes.

The National Association of Funeral director met officials at the Department of Trade and Industry to discuss their request. The Society of Independent Funeral Directors also wrote to John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, warning of far reaching health implications if undertakers were unable to move bodies from the place of death to a mortuary or chapel of rest.

THE RSPCA said it was struggling to respond to calls for help for animal casualties because some of its vehicles had run out of fuel and supplies were drying up, particularly in Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, Wales and the north west of England. All non-emergency activities had been suspended, the organisation said.

It asked members of the public to take animals to private veterinary practices themselves wherever possible until the situation was resolved.

There were other knock-on effects of the fuel shortages:

DONALD Dewar, Scotland's First Minister, cancelled a planned audience with the Queen at Balmoral Castle in order to hold emergency talks on the mounting fuel crisis.

BRISTOL City postponed tonight's home game against Brentford, the first major sporting casualty of the fuel crisis, because the club was unable to guarantee the required number of match stewards.

RADIO 1 DJ Scott Mills missed half an hour of his Breakfast Show this morning. He booked a taxi for 5.45am to get him across London to the BBC studios but the cab did not arrive because the firm had run out of fuel. He arrived at the studio at 7am.

A BRIDE booked her brother's electric-powered milk float as her wedding carriage after she was unable to hire a luxury limousine. Patricia Mountney, 52, will arrive at Birmingham Register Office n Saturday in the float decked in celebratory ribbons and balloons after her brother Barry Britton, 50, finishes his milk round.