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Coronavirus Kent: NHS nurse says Southeastern is 'cashing in' on key workers

A front line NHS nurse working in the fight against the coronavirus says she feels let down by rail operator Southeastern for changing its prices.

Kirsty Wickenden, 35, works in A&E at a central London hospital and lives in Tunbridge Wells.

Kirsty Wickenden, A&E nurse from Tunbridge Wells
Kirsty Wickenden, A&E nurse from Tunbridge Wells

Mrs Wickenden has to commute using the trains three times a week and says the price of a ticket has changed since the outbreak of Covid-19.

Buying advance tickets from Tonbridge to Waterloo East would usually cost her around £24 each day. Now she says advance tickets are unavailable so she has to pay £32.80 a day.

Southeastern said the difference was due to a quick timetable change and pledged the advance fares would return.

Mrs Wickenden said: "Most nurses, like myself, work three shifts a week so it's not feasible to buy a season ticket.

"I usually buy an outwards and a return journey separately, one to two days in advance. Doing it this way saves me about £8 a day which is a considerable amount when I'm a nurse and we don't earn a lot.

The price of Kirsty's train tickets has changed
The price of Kirsty's train tickets has changed

"Since Saturday, Southeastern has stopped people from buying advance tickets. I feel like it is cashing in on key workers who are keeping the country running right now."

The rail operator said its front line staff are also designated as key workers and are working around the clock to ensure people get to where they need to be at this time.

Mrs Wickenden has been working as a nurse for five years. She says when booking her tickets online, there was no information about why advance journeys were unavailable.

She added: "I love my job and I want to stay healthy to continue working but it's hard enough in these circumstances as it is.

"When you're being charged extra to get to work every day it really doesn't help.

"I feel like it is taking advantage of a really dire situation."

Southeastern says it has been making changes to its timetable
Southeastern says it has been making changes to its timetable

Mrs Wickenden is working on the front line and describes the current situation in hospitals as the calm before the storm.

“Everybody knows what’s coming, it’s just waiting for the virus to peak.

“This is why we keep saying to people ‘stay at home’.

“Our healthcare system is not equipped to deal with the capacity of patients that could come in over the next month if people continue to socialise.

“You can feel a bit of an impending doom coming.

“Having an amazing team is what keeps you going, I couldn’t do it without them..."

"It’s a bit eerie waiting for stuff to start happening."

Despite the increased pressure on the NHS, Mrs Wickenden says staff morale has never been stronger.

“Having an amazing team is what keeps you going, I couldn’t do it without them.

“Everyone is staying so positive despite the situation and that is making a huge difference.

“The support shown by the public has been amazing and it is really appreciated.”

"It would be nice if Southeastern could be a bit more understanding too."

A spokesman for Southeastern said: “We’re really sorry that Kirsty wasn’t able to get Advance fares this week, but it’s absolutely not the case that we’re cashing in.

"While there are only ever a limited number of these fares, the sheer speed at which we had to implement a reduced service timetable meant that it was impossible to ensure they were all in the system and allocated to individual trains.

“We had to introduce a new timetable at very short notice - a process that would normally be planned and implemented over many months.

"We’ll be able to make Advance fares available once again on certain trains from Monday".

The train operator said anyone who has been unable to purchase an advance ticket can request a refund for the difference.

Southeastern added: “Like the rest of the population Southeastern is also experiencing increased levels of sickness, with an increasing number of staff self-isolating. Our frontline staff are also designated as key workers and are working around the clock to ensure that people like Kirsty get to where they need to be.”

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