Community nurses have told i that soaring fuel prices and a cap on what they can claim for mileage from the NHS means they are now having to pay to travel to work.
The average cost of petrol saw its biggest daily jump in 17 years on Tuesday – when it rose to a record 180.73p per litre – up from 178.5p on Monday – while diesel increased almost 1.5p to a record 186.57p per litre, according to motoring organization the RAC.
For community nurses who routine travel thousands of miles a year to serve their local areas, the rising prices mean that they are now receiving less from NHS travel allowances than they actually spend on fuel.
Fuel now costs around 22p per mile based on an average car’s fuel consumption, but the NHS only pays 20p per mile for travel after the first 3,500 miles. Nurses told i that difference is financially crippling.
A £60 per month “wear and tear” payment to staff has also been cut, according to the GMB Union, which is calling on the Government to conduct an urgent review on the mileage allowance.
One worker, Oluyemisi Haruna, a community nurse sister, claimed she has not been paid for any of her fuel expenses in six months, totalling an estimated £840.
Mrs Haruna, who works in the Southampton area, added: “It has affected my physical and mental health, adding “this profession has so much courage but we haven’t been given that support”.
“I sometimes spend five hours filling out paperwork and it is so unfair they cannot pay me.”
She added due to the financial pressure she is under, coupled with staff shortages within her team due to vacancies and sickness, she has decided to take early retirement at the end of the month.
She said: “The sickness, the physical and mental affects, the whole system.”
Another nurse is unable to do night shifts any more because they can’t afford to run their car and buses do not run overnight.
He said the system, which cannot be manually adjusted, often sends staff 20-miles from their last job – despite their being patients to see on the same street.
He added that as a result, they have to claim higher expenses than necessary.
A lead community nurse, Chukwudubem Ifeajun also told i the mileage cap issue is exculpated by an automated NHS system he uses to allocate nurses on jobs.
Another worker, who did not want to be named, told how he and his wife, who are community workers in the east of England are shelling out “£5 each per day” on petrol outside their NHS fuel allowance.
He said the added financial pressure is making it difficult to support their two children, aged five and nine, saying: “It is really stressful and lowers your mood and I am trying to make sure my family has enough.
“I check my bank balance every day and trying to work out my daily allowances – can I afford lunch or can I afford to put money in my car.
He added some of their colleagues are reducing their food intake to only two meals a day in an effort to save cash, due to financial pressure they are under.
The revelations come after a snap poll of community nurses by NursingNotes this year revealed the average community nurse or care worker is spending between £150 and £300 a month on fuel and only being reimbursed around half of this.
Graham Revie, Chair of the Royal College of Nursing Trade Union Committee, called on the Government to give NHS staff a pay rise to cope with the financial pressure they are under due to petrol prices.
He told i: “This is an outrageous state of affairs – NHS knows how its workers are struggling while the government denies them fair pay.
“Ministers must take note and recognize the reality for those they relied upon during the pandemic and deliver a fair pay rise or even more nursing staff will struggle to meet the cost of living and the number leaving the profession will continue to grow.”
Gordon Balmer, executive director of Petrol Retailers Association has predicted prices will continue to rise due to an increase in demand brought about driving seasons starting in Europe and US, plus UK not buying diesel from Russia anymore.
He told i: “The issue is a lack of supply but an increase in demand. People haven’t been able to go out in their cars for the past couple of years due to the pandemic. They are seeing there are issues of traveling by plane and jumping in their cars and that has caused an increase in the cost of petrol.
“It is hard to predict how far prices will go- we don’t know how things will go in the Russia-Ukraine war.
Mr Balmer said that the only way that prices could be reduced is if the Government further reduces fuel duty or cuts VAT and they are lobbying it to do this.
He said: “We are trying to work on the Government to see if we can make them give more support to motorists
Howard Cox, Founder of FairFuelUK, which campaigns to reduce charges on fuel, also called on the Government to cut fuel duty, instruct the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to investigate independent fuel prices, and set up an independent fuel pricing watchdog it has been calling for called PumpWatch.
Mr Cox said: “Now the Tory navel-gazing is behind us, it’s time Boris [Johnson] and his Cabinet Ministers recognize that fiscal action on reducing crippling pump prices has become crucial.”
RAC fuel costs Simon Williams said the hastened costs forecourt fuel were “unprecedented and predicted prices were “still some fuel from the peak”.
But he offered some hope to drivers, by explaining while the average price of diesel is heading towards £2 a litre, the cost of wholesale petrol had unexpectedly dropped by about 5p a litre on Tuesday, which could stem the flow of “daily petrol record prices.”
The Department of Health and Social Care has been contacted by i for comments.
A Government said: “We are incredibly grateful to all of our NHS staff and we recognize the pressures caused by the rising cost of living.
“The public rightly expects petrol retailers and others in the supply chain to pass on this historic fuel duty cut on forecourts – and both the Chancellor and the Business Secretary have written to the industry urging them to do so.
“NHS staff can already claim 56p per mile for essential work-related travel – above HMRC’s approved mileage rate of 45p per mile.”