Complaints only available tests are hundreds of miles away despite Matt Hancock’s pledge
Exasperated parents in England have complained of a test-and-trace system still in “shambles”, with some struggling to book appointments for their children who have developed symptoms since returning to school.
One Brighton primary school teacher, who did not wish to be named, told the Guardian she had tried to book a test for her three-year-old daughter since Friday morning, but the only option offered was in Aberdeen – more than 600 miles away.
It comes after the health secretary, Matt Hancock, pledged on Monday that no one should have to travel more than 75 miles each way to get a test. The head of NHS test and trace subsequently issued an apology to people in England who have either been unable to secure a test or have been told to travel hundreds of miles.
Jack Cousens, a Basingstoke councillor, chronicled the difficulties he faced in trying to secure a test for his six-year-old son over the course of 12 hours on Friday.
In five separate attempts, he was told “there are no tests available right now,” and to check again later.
“It would be laughable if it weren’t so shambolic,” he said. “The PM and health secretary need to take responsibility here, own the problem and find a way to fix it.”
On his sixth attempt he succeeded in booking the last available slot at a Salisbury testing centre a “short-ish jaunt away”.
But author Clare Josa, from Salisbury, told the Guardian on Thursday that she was advised to travel to a test centre 140 miles away when trying to book an appointment for her husband.
“I’ve tried every hour (waking hours) since Monday lunchtime and there are zero postal tests available and, all but one time, there haven’t been any test centre tests either,” she said.
“My husband is too ill to drive and I don’t want to spend six hours in a car with him if he might be contagious. The Salisbury test centre is two miles from our home and friends who have driven past it say it looks empty.”
She added that her eight-year-old son had been sent home from school on Monday due to a cough and cold. The school nurse agreed to use one of the schools “precious” 10 Covid tests on him – which was sent to the lab the following morning – but by Thursday she had still not received any result.
England’s Covid testing troubles: ‘Something is clearly going wrong’
Chris Kimberly, from Milton Keynes, tweeted about a similar experience. He said he had been trying to get a test for his son, who has developed a persistent cough since returning to school last week, for hours. “This is a shambles he said,” he said.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “NHS test and trace is working and our capacity is the highest it has ever been but we are seeing a significant demand for tests including from people who do not have symptoms and are not otherwise eligible.
“New booking slots and home-testing kits are made available daily for those who need them and we are targeting testing capacity at the areas that need it most, including those where there is an outbreak, and prioritising at-risk groups.
“Our laboratories are processing more than a million tests a week and we recently announced new facilities and technology to process results even faster. If you do not have symptoms and are not eligible to get a test you can continue to protect yourself if you wash your hands, wear a face covering and follow social distancing rules.”