Anger and frustration as coronavirus testing system ‘lapses into chaos’

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.

The Manchester Evening News tonight tried to book a test online via the government website using an address from every borough in Greater Manchester.

In each case we said we were a male key worker who had had symptons for two days.

However in only two boroughs – Tameside and Trafford – a test was offered.

In Tameside, using an Audenshaw postocde we were offered a slot at the drive-in centre next to the Etihad Stadium, 4.1 miles away.

Using an Altrincham postcode we were offered the option of three walk-in testing centres, the nearest being 3.8 miles away in Wythenshawe.

In all other areas, including Bolton which has the highest infection rate in the country at 179.1 per 100,000 of population, we were told the system was “very busy” and to try again later. Other areas including Wigan, Stockport and Salford said there were “no testing sites” when attempting to select one.

A person is swabbed at the testing centre near Manchester Airport
(Image: Daily Mirror/Andy Stenning)

A message was displayed saying “more tests should be available later, If you cannot book a test now, or the location or time are not convenient, try again in a few hours” which is what has greeted thousands of others, as well as urging you not to ring the helplines.

The Director of public health for Cheshire West and Chester, Ian Ashworth said tonight the north west had 25 percent of the country’s coronavirus cases but yet only had access to 15pc of the national testing capacity.

The government say new booking slots and home testing kits are being made available every day and that testing capacity is as high as it has ever been.

However families have told us they are being spending ‘all day’ in self-isolation refreshing the website only to be told that the only available tests are in Yorkshire or further afield, or that none are available at all.

This means people are facing time off work, or students time off school, for what could potentially just be common colds.

A primary school teacher told the M.E.N she had been trying to get a test for over 24 hours after developing a cough on Saturday evening. She faces having to self-isolate, and being away from work for two weeks if she cannot get one by Wednesday as the NHS say a test has to be taken inside the first five days of symptoms to be effective.

“That could be a lot of unnecessary time off work, potentially adding a huge amount of extra pressure to my school in a time of already immense pressure” she said.

“The testing situation at the moment is ineffective. The Government are not keeping up with demand and yet still boast of their World beating system.”

Bernadette Anne, from Warrington, whose daughter needs to be tested to return to school said on our Facebook page that she was told the nearest available testing site was in Doncaster in south Yorkshire. “It is a shambles” she said.

The message which has greeted scores of people attempting to book a Covid test online

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.

One woman said she was turned away from three walk-in test centres whilst others said they had been seen, including one woman who managed to get a test at the site at Belle Vue in Gorton.

Many who have managed to get tested either at home or at a testing centre, have since 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.”

Residents in Bury have now 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.

Salford MP Barbara Keeley has blasted the government’s handling of the testing system
(Image: Stoke Sentinel)

“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.”

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.”

|Ma Evening Post