Covid-19 test shortages as national system 'lapses into chaos'

Tuesday, September 15th, 2020 8:58am

By Niall Griffiths, Local Democracy Reporter @niallgriffiths

People living in coronavirus hotspots across Greater Manchester are struggling to get tested amid fears that the national system has 'lapsed into chaos'.

Residents in Manchester, Salford, Rochdale, Oldham, Bolton and Tameside are either being told there are limited numbers of tests available – or none at all.

Many of those attempting to book a test using the government’s online booking system are being told that the service is ‘currently very busy’ and ‘more tests should be available later’.

Families are being forced to self-isolate while spending ‘all day’ refreshing the website only to be told that the only available tests are in Yorkshire or further afield.

Meanwhile residents in Bury have been urged to only request tests if they have symptoms as testing sites have been ‘overwhelmed’ since opening last week.

The council has warned that if demand continues to rise then local testing sites at the Mosses and Chesham community centres could be closed to walk-in appointments.

Councillor Andrea Simpson, cabinet member for health and wellbeing, said: “If you don’t have symptoms, please don’t request a test; this creates a bottleneck in our already pressured system and unnecessary delays for people that really need one.

“There are people with symptoms who cannot return to work and students that cannot return to class until they are sure that they don’t have the virus to avoid passing it on. 

“Getting a test is the only way for them to know.”

There are reports of local testing sites elsewhere in Greater Manchester accepting walk-in tests then turning others away in the space of two hours.

One Manchester resident was unable to get a test for his young daughter at the testing centre at Trafford Park, only for a friend to secure a walk-in appointment for their daughter on the same day.

There are also others who have managed to get tested either at home or at a testing centre but have been waiting days to get their results back.

This includes a family in Salford who reached out to Barbara Keeley, the Labour MP for Worsley and Eccles South.

“It’s important that the government gets a grip of this current testing fiasco,” she said.

“It’s quite clear that there’s a lack of laboratory capacity or a lack of tests, whichever it is, and that has to be dealt with.”

Last week the government announced that it was piloting a same-day mass testing scheme in Salford from October, with a view of rolling out nationally after that.

Health secretary Matt Hancock has defended the so-called Operation Moonshot, which has already come under scrutiny from opposition politicians and some experts.

Ms Keeley said: “We don’t want anymore ludicrous claims about mass testing and Operation Moonshot, I think it’s important that the government gets a grip of this situation.

“We’re starting at a really appalling level of ministerial incompetence in our country that has now lapsed into such chaos.

“For us in Greater Manchester our infection rates are rising and this is totally the wrong time for this to be happening.”

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has admitted that the test and trace system is seeing ‘significant demand’ but insisted that the capacity is the ‘highest it has ever been’.

A spokesman added: “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.”

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