THE true scale of the country’s virus testing chaos was revealed yesterday as centres were left deserted — with people unable to book appointments online due to computer ‘glitches’.
Health secretary Matt Hancock admitted the problems could take weeks to fix and even hinted at ‘test rationing’ as he was summoned to the Commons to answer an urgent question on the government’s ‘world-beating’ system. In some cases, people are having to exploit technical loopholes to book slots at their nearest testing centre by entering false postcodes from hundreds of miles away.
MP Munira Wilson revealed how her constituents in Twickenham, south-west London, told her they were ‘advised that, if they put an Aberdeen postcode into the system, they can get a test in Twickenham and they have succeeded’.
The latest twist comes after Metro reported yesterday how tests were impossible to book in the country’s ten top Covid-19 hotspots.
Commons speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said he was receiving ‘multiple’ complaints from people with symptoms unable to get tests. ‘This is completely unacceptable and totally undermines track and trace,’ he tweeted.
Mr Hancock admitted in the Commons that there were pressures on demand but promised problems would be solved ‘in a matter of weeks’.
He told MPs there would be a ‘prioritisation’ of tests for those with acute clinical need or in social care settings as he acknowledged ‘operational challenges’ in the system.
He added: ‘I do not shirk from decisions. They are not always comfortable but they are important.’
He insisted the average distance anyone must travel to a testing centre was just 5.8 miles. Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt said people in his Surrey constituency had been sent to Bristol or the Isle of Wight for tests.
Labour MP Wes Streeting shouted out that it was ‘a bloody mess’.
Mr Hancock was called to account as Britain’s official death toll rose by 27 to 41,664, with 3,105 new daily infections.
A total of 227,075 tests were carried out, with a potential capacity of almost 375,000. Just last week, Boris Johnson unveiled his £100billion ‘Operation Moonshot’ testing plan, which has already come under fire from the British Medical Association. Chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘The government is shooting for the Moon, promising to deliver mass continuous testing with a test that doesn’t yet exist at a cost nearly as much as the total NHS budget.
‘Down here on Planet Earth, we need a fit-for-purpose test and trace system with capacity, agility and accessibility that doesn’t disadvantage some of the most vulnerable.’
Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said: ‘The country has been promised so much on testing, but, six months into the pandemic, the government has failed woefully to get to grips with the problems.’
■ A CORONAVIRUS test centre in a railway station car park closed because the site is earmarked for post-Brexit customs checks on lorries, it is claimed. The centre at Ebbsfleet International shut earlier this month ‘as it is required by HMRC for EU Exit’, says a county council letter leaked to KentOnline. The government said a new test centre had been set up in Rochester and ‘final decisions’ had not yet been made about customs sites. It follows a leaked report that warned Kent faces queues of 7,000 lorries after Brexit.