Coronavirus: NHS staff struggle to get food amid long queues during Tesco priority hour

People queue outside a Tesco Extra store in Madeley, Shropshire, on Sunday. (PA Images via Getty Images)

Many NHS staff struggled to buy food from Tesco stores on Sunday as huge queues caused chaos during the supermarket’s priority hour for health workers.

NHS staff said they were refused entry to stores or had to leave queues over social distancing fears.

The death toll from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has reached 281, and there have been than 5,600 confirmed cases of the illness.

Tesco has announced that NHS staff will be given a priority hour before the usual opening time every Sunday to get essential items ahead of the general public during the coronavirus outbreak.

But many NHS workers said the system did not work on Sunday, resulting instead in huge queues of people.

Tesco security staff check NHS identification badges as the supermarket opens an hour early for NHS staff in Wythenshawe, Manchester, on Sunday. (Getty Images)
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They had been told they could gain access to Tesco stores by showing a form of NHS identification, but several NHS staff said on social media that they were unable to access their local stores.

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Audrey Whyte, an employment and mental health specialist, said on Twitter that she gave up queuing outside Tesco in Telford, Shropshire.

She accused Tesco of issuing “misleading info” and said she was told to wait in “miles and miles” of queues despite having her NHS ID.

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She said a number of people trying to get in were not NHS staff.

Dr James Glasbey, a doctoral research fellow at the University of Birmingham, tweeted: “Unbelievable scenes @Tesco Birmingham.

“1hr early opening @NHSuk staff = nice idea, but extremely poorly executed – no queuing, no crowd control, no physical distancing – high-risk behaviours.”

Georgia Layton, a cardiothoracic surgery trainee, said she encountered problems at a Tesco in Leicester.

She tweeted: “Slightly more organised queue but I left after 15 minutes… didn’t feel it was worth the risk of being in such a big crowd.

“Especially as I feel we NHS staff could easily become super spreaders. Found a metro store which was quieter & controlled.”

Dan Thorpe, a Labour councillor and leader of Greenwich Council in south London, tweeted: “This morning I took my friend who works in the NHS to #nhshour at @Tesco in #Lewisham I can absolutely say it is not working.

“These are NHS staff queuing since 8 who thought it opened at 9 for them. And then people stopped joining the queue and headed for the doors.”

Long queues were also reported at Tesco stores in Dudley, in the West Midlands, and in Liverpool.

Another woman, Kerrie Pooke, said on Facebook that her daughter, a paramedic, was refused entry to the Tesco store at Old Kent Road in Southwark, south-east London.

She wrote: “My daughter is a paramedic. Today was her first day off in a while and she went this morning to try and get shopping.

“The queue was already right back trailing along the car park, so she went to the front of the queue with her ID as stated, there were also a few other people doing the same including elderly.

People queue at a Tesco Extra in Osterley, London, on Sunday after the supermarket chain announced a designated hour for NHS staff. (PA Images via Getty Images)

“The security told them all they needed to join the back of the queue!”

She said her daughter eventually gave up and left the queue.

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A spokesman for Tesco said: “The priority hour is a way to support NHS workers to get access to the things they need and to say thank you for all they are doing.

“We are trying hard to do the right thing and while feedback has been positive, we also recognise that many stores were still very busy.

“We’re going to take learnings onboard and continue to offer these priority shopping times to NHS workers.

“We really need customers to help us by giving NHS workers priority during this hour and so we ask all other customers to shop during the usual Sunday opening hours.”