Testing programme under fire over ‘400-mile round-trip’

Key workers booking a coronavirus test are being asked to travel hundreds of miles.

Testing programme under fire over ‘400-mile round-trip’

Essential workers trying to book a Covid-19 test using an official website have been offered slots requiring a 400-mile round trip, an MP said.

Labour MP Kevan Jones described the situation in County Durham as "chaotic", after a constituent was offered a test in Perth, Scotland, meaning a round trip of about seven hours, with others saying they were asked to go to Edinburgh.

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Mr Jones said the official testing website also offered someone a test in Penrith in Cumbria, 63 miles from Durham, despite local test sites being set up with the help of the county council.

And problems at a local testing site led to the police being called, it has emerged.

The Durham North MP said: "The national coronavirus testing website is shambolic, and along with Durham County Council, I am calling on the Health Secretary to take urgent action."

He said it was an example of Westminster "micro-managing" what was happening in the regions, calling it "completely shambolic".

Lucy Hovvels, chairman of the County Durham Health and Wellbeing Board, has written to the Health Secretary outlining the problem.

She said Durham County Council had helped set up a local testing programme, with three temporary sites being operated since April 26.

But, she claimed, each time the sites' operations have been "hampered by the poor performance of the national website" for booking appointments.

She wrote: "The three sites concerned have not been displayed on the website when they should have been, so people have not been able to book appointments.

"This has caused an awful lot of frustration and complaints as we had been asked to actively promote the availability of testing at the sites locally, which we have done in all good faith.

"Initially, the military has sought to work around the booking problems by encouraging people to check eligibility and attend the sites without an appointment, where they would be assisted to register on the spot, obtaining the necessary QR code.

"This failed at Dalton Park 3-5 May and has failed again today at Bishop Auckland College, because the national website has repeatedly fallen over, such that it has proved impossible to register people on site."

Ms Hovvels added: "Although we were advised to promote that people could turn up and register at the site without an appointment, the policy on this has changed, such that people who have travelled to the sites are now being turned away because they do not have the necessary appointment code.

"At Dalton Park, the police have become involved."

And she said the problems were causing frustration for people needing tests, and volunteers, meaning not only had ill people who travelled to sites been turned away, but also that the number of tests undertaken via the mobile testing units was down 75% last weekend compared with the previous one.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: "As we tackle this virus we are determined to make it fast and simple for all eligible people who need a test to get a test.

"In addition to setting up a nationwide network of drive-in testing sites, we have also introduced home testing kit delivery and deployed mobile testing units operated by the Armed Forces.

"Over one million people have now been tested in the UK and the vast majority report no issues with the process."

A coronavirus testing helpline has been set up to help eligible people through the booking process and can be contacted on 0300 303 2713 between 7am and 11pm.

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