The NHS was taken off 'red alert' on Monday as fuel supplies started to return to normal following the blockade of oil refineries.

Health secretary Alan Milburn was forced to defend his decision to instruct NHS organisations to have emergency plans in place last Wednesday after shadow health secretary Dr Liam Fox claimed he was 'overhyping' the crisis.

The effects of the blockade were patchy, with some health organisations reporting no problems and others forced to move to emergency work only.

In Essex, South Essex Mental Health and Community Care trust chief executive Patrick Geoghegan and chair Jai Tout visited local fuel depots to ask protesters to deliver unleaded petrol to the trust because community nurses were 'stranded'.

Protesters at the Esso depot in Purfleet and the BP refinery at Coryton agreed to deliver emergency supplies, and managers were drafted in to staff the trust's pumps.

Mr Geoghegan said: 'We had begged and borrowed as many diesel cars as we could, laid on additional transport and ran our own emergency supplies dry, but we were still in the critical situation of having nurses who could not get out the next day to their patients. '

Trusts generally thanked staff for battling into work. Birmingham Specialist Community Health trust highlighted the efforts of physiotherapist Ian Dorrington, who used rollerblades to travel a mile to work in 10 minutes - the same time as it took him to drive.

Morecambe Bay Hospitals trust said staff had worked double shifts and stayed with friends to beat the protests.

Chief executive Ian Cumming said local petrol stations also gave staff preferential access to fuel supplies and car dealerships lent diesel vehicles.

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