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Coronavirus: NHS staff turn down priority shopping hours due to overcrowding

by Awil Mohamoud
24 March 2020

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NHS workers are turning down supermarket priority hours that were designed to offer them easier access to essentials, due to concerns about large gatherings. 

The major UK supermarkets introduced special shopping hours for NHS staff last week, as panicked members of the public continued to stockpile, causing shortages.  

Some workers have complained about the ‘lack of social distancing’ between NHS staff during those hours and the absence of security to manage shoppers.

Tension also builds as the public has been asked to stay at home for three weeks and avoid groups of more than two people. 

In some cases, NHS workers have been offered priority shopping alongside vulnerable groups.

Practice nurse Joan Gordon tweeted that she was ‘concerned’ that the elderly and frail would be in close proximity to frontline staff dealing with sick and infected patients on a daily basis. 

Barnet UNISON has even set up a petition calling for supermarkets to deliver shopping to NHS workplaces as an alternative system. 

Customers have struggled to get online shopping as delivery slots across many of the supermarkets have been booked up for weeks.

Other NHS workers have reported a more positive experience. Halifax practice manager Tracy Dell visited her local supermarket during special NHS staff hours on the weekend. 

She said she found it to be ‘extremely helpful and supportive’ and that priority shopping ‘took the pressure off a little bit’ for staff. 

‘Whilst it was extremely busy, the staff and security guards were amazing. We received a bunch of flowers to say thank you for the work you’ve been doing. In some stores, NHS staff were being clapped as they walked in,’ she added. 

‘We’ve also had tremendous support from retailers offering free drinks, discounts and free pizzas for staff.’

Priority shopping hours at major supermarkets:

●      Sainsbury’s – every day from 7.30am-8am

●      Asda – Monday, Wednesday and Friday 8am-9am

●      Tesco – Every Sunday, priority browsing hour before checkouts open.

●      Co-operative – Monday to Saturday, 8am-9am, Sunday, 10am-11am.

●      Marks and Spencer – Tuesday and Friday – the first hour of opening. 

●      Morrisons – Monday to Saturday, the first hour of opening.

●      Waitrose – No special hours have been announced, but a proportion of hard-to-find items will be set aside for NHS staff. 

●      Iceland – Monday to Friday, final hour of trading.