Coronavirus testing system ‘falls’

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People across England have told BBC News they are struggling to access coronavirus tests.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said last week that no one should have to travel more than 120 kilometers for a test, after the BBC revealed some were being sent hundreds of kilometers.

But dozens of them said they were unable to reserve a direct debit at all.

The Department of Health and Social Affairs (DHSC) said screening capacity was targeted to the hardest hit areas.

A significant increase in demand for testing has led the government to reduce the number of appointments available in low prevalence areas, in order to prioritize areas with outbreaks.

This has led people applying for tests to be directed to centers sometimes hundreds of kilometers away.

But last Thursday, Mr Hancock pledged to put in place “immediate” solutions to prevent people from having to travel more than 120 kilometers, as of last Friday.

Since then, postal codes entered into the government’s reservation system have returned a message suggesting that there are no testing centers or home kits available – even if you are an essential worker with symptoms.

A DHSC spokesperson said: “We are seeing a high demand for testing, but if you have symptoms, we urge you to get tested.

“New booking slots and home test kits are made available daily.”

‘Complete nightmare’

Melissa, a general practitioner in the north west of England, requested a test for her seven-year-old son on Tuesday after developing a new continuous cough and changes in his sense of taste.

After being offered a test in Sunderland, about 130 miles away, she applied through her local NHS staff portal – designed to prioritize healthcare staff.

But this system directed her first to Telford, nearly 100 miles away, and then to London, over 200 miles away.

No home kit was available.

“It was a complete nightmare,” she says. “I had to cancel in-person appointments with patients, including baby clinics. ”

She added that this had become a common theme in the NHS Facebook groups of which she was a member.

“The whole system is going to fall apart.

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“It doesn’t feel like the infrastructure is there to help NHS staff through the winter. ”

This sentiment was echoed by a psychiatrist in an area currently under government intervention due to its high rate of coronavirus.

She found that no tests were available after the development of all of the symptoms of the coronavirus in the textbook, including a cough and fever.

‘Glitch in the system’

Frances, in Suffolk, attempted to request a test when her daughter developed a high temperature. She didn’t think it was coronavirus but “the rules are the rules”.

She understood that anyone with a temperature would have to request a test and couldn’t send any of their children to school until she did.

“Their teachers have to be safe, their classmates have to be safe, we have to do the right thing,” she said.

Frances, like Melissa, was also unable to get a home kit, and when she tried to get an appointment at a drive-thru center, she was told that no test site was found.

“It almost looks like a problem in the system,” she said.

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And Jamie in Chesterfield spent seven hours trying to contact someone using the 119 number when no space appeared on the online reservation system.

Her school-aged child had developed a new cough.

“It’s the right thing to do as directed,” he said.

Finally, he managed to pass a test 50 miles away.

It comes as a number of different data sources show cases are increasing and the epidemic is growing for the first time since before the lockdown.

Some suggest that the problems accessing the tests have occurred since the return from schools.

Mr Hancock said 25% of people requesting tests are ineligible because they do not have symptoms, although his department did not say where that figure came from.

Meanwhile, NHS 111 data released on September 11 showed an increase in calls about children with symptoms that would make them eligible for a coronavirus test.

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