People sent hundreds of miles from Suffolk for Covid test as ‘high-risk’ areas made priority
PUBLISHED: 08:52 07 September 2020 | UPDATED: 10:14 08 September 2020
Families in Suffolk have been left frustrated after being told to travel hundreds of miles across the country for a coronavirus test – with some being sent as far as Scotland.
The testing system has come under scrutiny after people reported being unable to book a Covid-19 test locally, despite living near a number of test centres, such as the Copdock site.
The government says the booking website is now prioritising high-risk areas, including those with local lockdowns, towns and cities with high infection rates and care homes.
How far have people in Suffolk been sent?
James Robertson, who lives in Battisford near Needham Market with his wife and three-year-old son, applied for his family to get tested as he is a key worker.
He was shocked when he was told Ebbw Vale in South Wales, which is 179.6 miles away, was his closest testing centre.
“We had all been feeling a bit ill so I thought as a key worker it was better to be safe than sorry and that we should all get tested,” Mr Robertson said.
“I have been getting tested regularly and this issue has only begun recently – every other time I’ve been to Copdock and it was virtually empty.
“It just seems crazy to me – in the end, my wife spent two days on the phone to the government before we managed to get tests booked in Sudbury.”
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Other Suffolk residents have reported being told to head to distant locations such as Dundee, Nottingham, Bradford, Inverness and Rochdale.
Lea Moye said she tried to book online last week, only to be sent to Nottingham, despite living less than 10 minutes from Copdock.
David Atkinson, 45, from Ipswich, added: “When I first did it my nearest site was in Dundee, 358 miles away. I kept trying but the next nearest was Bradford, then the closest I managed to get it was Harwich which was apparently ‘6.5 miles away’, but it was a 40 minute journey.”
The website wouldn’t show the Copdock site for David, so he decided to take on the 50-mile round trip to Harwich.
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Many others said they tried several times to book a slot and eventually managed to select Ipswich or another nearby centre.
Ipswich mum Rachel Davey, who works in a school, asked her 20-year-old daughter to get a test after she developed a cold.
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She said she wanted to make sure it wasn’t the virus as she would have to self-isolate and would need to make the school aware.
She tried to book a test at 4pm and found the closest centre available at that time was in Wales, more than 180 miles away.
However, when she logged on three hours later she managed to get a slot in Colchester, and then finally managed to book Ipswich, five hours after first registering.
She said: “People don’t need to travel hundreds of miles to get a test, they just need to be patient with the system and keep trying as something near you will come up eventually.”
Why is this happening?
Despite dozens of reports from people confused by the booking system, there are still many who have successfully had tests in their local area and home testing kits appear to be the most reliable in terms of location.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said the NHS Test and Trace system is working, but they are providing more tests in areas which need it most.
They said the government is working to increase national testing capacity and hundreds of thousands of people are being tested every single day.
“There is a high demand for tests and our laboratories continue to turn test results around as quickly as possible,” the spokesman said.
“To make sure we stay in control of this virus we are targeting our testing capacity at the areas that need it most, including those where there is an outbreak, as well as prioritising at-risk groups.
“We are expanding testing capacity to 500,000 tests a day by the end of October – as well as bringing in new technology to process tests even faster.”
According to the department, improvements are being made so no one has to go further than 75 miles to get a test.
Baroness Dido Harding, head of NHS Test and Trace in England, blamed the problem on rising demand.
She told BBC Radio 4’s programme: “We’ve seen an increase in 63% more people coming forward to be tested for the first time than June and in many ways that’s a good thing.
“Now obviously I don’t want people to be being directed to go miles and miles for a test but the reason this is happening at the moment is because of a really significant increase in demand of a testing platform that, as I’ve said, is larger than any other in Europe.”
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