‘I called more than 200 times’: Vulnerable people struggle to get delivery slots

People suffering from blood cancer are among those struggling to get supermarket delivery slots, with some forced to leave their homes for food.

Cara Steel, 23, from Falkirk, has a five-year-old son, Jayke, who has blood cancer, and a 16-month-old daughter, Maya, who has a tumour on her chest.

Ms Steel managed to secure a Tesco delivery slot after midnight on March 30, but the first slot she could get was April 21, meaning that her husband James still had to go to the shops to get food for the family.

He is now in bed suffering from symptoms of coronavirus and Jayke has been moved out of the house to stay with his grandparents.

Jayke and Maya Steel (Family handout/PA)
Jayke and Maya Steel (Family handout/PA)

Ms Steel told the PA news agency: “My parents were helping us a little bit, but they now have my son.”

She added: “It might already be too late. He might already have been exposed to the virus but we’re hoping not.”

Ms Steel said the family is in week nine of isolation due to having been in hospital before the crisis in the UK kicked in.

She got a letter from the Scottish Government on Wednesday due to her son’s condition, but said that unlike in England, it does not give her family access to priority supermarket delivery slots.

Ms Steel said: “My husband has been going to the supermarket to get us food because we don’t have anyone else who can do that for us.

“My husband is now upstairs isolating with what we think is coronavirus.”

She said they believe his trip out to get essentials is what made him ill.

“That’s the only place he’s been,” she said.

Ms Steel said she has sat “for hours” on all the supermarket websites, flicking back and forward between them, as she tried to secure a delivery slot.

She said she cannot understand why the Scottish Government was not quicker to ensure that vulnerable people are given guaranteed priority slots.

On Thursday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said priority supermarket delivery slots for vulnerable Scots should be in place early next week.

Helen Payne (PA)
Helen Payne (PA)

Elsewhere, 61-year-old Helen Payne, who lives in Wokingham, Berkshire, struggled so much to get a delivery slot that she had to leave the house for food despite having blood cancer.

Ms Payne, who is in the “extremely vulnerable” category and is currently receiving daily chemotherapy, told the PA news agency: “I literally starved for about five days.”

She said she was surviving on the little food she had left in the cupboards, but eventually decided she had to go out to the shop herself after trying to get deliveries with “every single supermarket” and not being able to.

Ms Payne said: “There’s a whole bunch of us being told to stay in with no support.”

She said she was “desperately” worried about venturing out, adding: “I literally had to. And I had to queue for 45 minutes with everybody else, socially distancing and everything, but I was incredibly anxious about the whole thing.”

Ms Payne, who has been out at the shop twice now, said she has a delivery secured with Asda next week.

Ally Boyle (PA)
Ally Boyle (PA)

Ally Boyle, 48, from Blantyre in Scotland, also suffers from blood cancer and is immunocompromised.

He has been told he must stay at home, but had problems securing a delivery slot with Sainsbury’s, and has spent a lot of time on the phone trying to sort it out.

Mr Boyle said: “I understand the difficulties, but what would happen is they’d put a message at the start of it, trying to be helpful.

“But you had to listen to that whole message, and then at the end of the message it would say, ‘I’m sorry, we’re too busy to take your call’, and then bump you off again.

“I called more than 200 times, these numbers, over the space of five days,” he said.

The retired firefighter said Sainsbury’s was “brilliant” once he eventually got through.

“They’re clearly under a lot of pressure,” he said, adding that once he got registered as vulnerable, he got a delivery within a couple of days.

Tesco has offered the government in Scotland support with providing delivery slots for vulnerable people and has asked them to share the appropriate data.

The retailer said it has been given an initial list of 110,000 clinically vulnerable and isolated people in England by the Government who have all registered on the Government website and asked for help receiving food supplies.

Tesco chief executive Dave Lewis said: “From these, we were able to match 75,000 existing customers and we’ve already contacted them to let them know we’re making home delivery slots immediately available to them.

“As we receive more data from Government, we’ll make even more slots available.

“We have increased our online delivery slots by 145,000 in the last two weeks, with hundreds of thousands more due to become available shortly; but we know it’s still difficult to get an online delivery slot at the moment due to high demand, and we ask those who are able to safely come to stores to do so, instead of shopping online, so we can start to free up more slots for the more vulnerable.”

A Sainsbury’s spokeswoman said: “We are working through the list of people in England who have registered with the Government to say they are vulnerable and need help getting a food shop.

“Since then, we have been able to match 150,000 additional customers against our database and we are contacting them to arrange priority home delivery.

“We are also stepping up home delivery and click and collect services so that we can continue to serve as many other elderly and vulnerable people across the UK as we can.”