Brits should be 'ashamed' of panic buying amid coronavirus pandemic, says NHS chief

21 March 2020, 14:10

Stephen Powis, NHS England medical director, has said people should be ashamed of themselves for stick piling
Professor Stephen Powis, NHS England medical director, has said people should be ashamed of themselves for stock piling. Picture: Number 10

By Kate Buck

Britons who panic buy and strip the shelves of produce should be "ashamed" of themselves, an NHS chief has said.

Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director at NHS England, said urged people to think of struggling NHS staff during a press conference at Downing Street this afternoon.

"I would like to make a plea on behalf of all my colleagues in the NHS, nurses, doctors, paramedics and many, many others who are working incredibly hard at the moment to manage this outbreak of coronavirus," he said.

"It's incredibly important that they too have access to food, to those essential supplies that they need."

Mr Powis made reference to a video posted on social media of a critical care nurse named Dawn, who was reduced to tears after being unable to find any fruit or vegetables in the supermarket.

"Frankly we should all be ashamed that that has to happen - it's unacceptable. These are the very people that we all need to look after perhaps us or our loved ones in the weeks to come."

The message from Environment Secretary George Eustice was simple: "Be responsible when you shop and think of others.

He added:"Buying more than you need means others may be left without. We all have a role to play in ensuring we all come through this together."

He said there is "more than enough food" and urged people to think of others when they stockpile.

Breaking. Picture: Number 10

He also said manufacturers have produced 50 per cent more food than normal, and around £1 billion worth of extra food has been bought in the last three weeks alone.

Mr Eustice said the government has set aside rules and relaxed restrictions for driver hours and competition laws so that staff, vehicles and opening times can be coordinated to get food across the country. 

The plastic bag change has also been paused while the pandemic continues.

When asked if the government will enforce food measures, Mr Eustice said supermarkets are already putting limits on certain items, so it will not be necessary for the government to dictate this. 

Asked about possible Government intervention restricting food purchases, Mr Eustice said: "The reality is that most of the supermarkets are already, of their own accord, putting limits on certain items so I don't think it is necessary or appropriate for the Government to dictate this."

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said she wanted to reassure people that those "right across the food industry... are doing everything they can to ensure that we have the food we all need."

Ms Dickinson said that the industry was experiencing "a peak in demand "like Christmas... without the four-month build-up period."

Ms Dickinson said: "There is plenty of food in the supply chain.

"The issue is around people and lorries, so getting that food right into the front line onto our shelves, which is why we've seen some shortages."

More to follow...