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Government pledges to fix testing fiasco as computer glitch causes chaos

PUBLISHED: 14:34 11 September 2020 | UPDATED: 16:32 11 September 2020

Colin Davis, from Hunstanton, has been trying to book a test for his one-year old son Ryan. Photo: Colin Davies

Colin Davis, from Hunstanton, has been trying to book a test for his one-year old son Ryan. Photo: Colin Davies

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A computer glitch has caused further delays for people trying to book coronavirus tests, as the government’s pledge to tackle problems falls flat.

A temporary coronavirus testing centre has been set up at Carrow Road. Pictures: BRITTANY WOODMANA temporary coronavirus testing centre has been set up at Carrow Road. Pictures: BRITTANY WOODMAN

All week families have reported being told to travel hundreds of miles when trying to book a coronavirus test on the government’s website.

Delays getting home testing kits, meanwhile, have also meant that some children have missed school as they wait several days for results.

In response, a Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesman said improvements were being made to the system to make sure no-one is sent to a site more than 75 miles away.

That pledge was first made by test and trace boss Dido Harding last Thursday, but this week people were still being asked to travel more than 400 miles.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock. Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA WireHealth Secretary Matt Hancock. Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

We have asked the DHSC when these changes will be made.

At a temporary test centre at Carrow Road in Norwich on Thursday, people were sent away despite having a booking.

David Wooldridge, from Sprowston, booked a test for his six-year old son after he woke up with a temperature.

“The test was confirmed on the computer screen and we thought no more of it,” he said.

Scott Lyons, from the National Education Union. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYScott Lyons, from the National Education Union. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

“After queuing for some time to enter the test station we were asked for a QR code. None was ever sent to us and we were told by a very helpful and embarrassed staff member that there were 100 plus cars all in the same position at Norwich football club.”

He called the NHS testing line on 119 for help only to be told he should not have gone without a code.

He said: “How are people supposed to know of this QR code if the website makes no reference to it?”

The family managed to book a test in Ipswich on Friday instead.

Baroness Dido Harding, executive chairwoman of NHS Test and Trace, during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (COVID-19). Photograph: PA.Baroness Dido Harding, executive chairwoman of NHS Test and Trace, during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (COVID-19). Photograph: PA.

See also: Families told to travel to Scotland for coronavirus tests

Jane, from Thorpe St Andrew, also said she was turned away.

“The queue for testing stretched back over the railway bridge,” she said.

“I was taken onto a derelict patch of land and waited there with other cars and passengers until finally after a 45-minute wait, staff came to tell all those waiting that unless we had a code with our confirmation of a test appointment then they didn’t have enough tests for us.”

She added: “It is a dreadful system. It just seems so incompetent.”

Director of public health in Norfolk, Dr Louise Smith, said the issue was unique to the county and has been raised with the DHSC which said it had been fixed.

“The advice we were given is that this is in the context of an increase in demand for tests,” Dr Smith said. “Hence my appeal that people should only ask for a coronavirus test if they have symptoms.”

•‘Massive issue’ for schools

Delays getting tests are also affecting the start of the school year for some children.

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Colin Davis, 31, from Hunstanton, had to take his children out of school this week while waiting to book a test.

His youngest, Ryan, 1, had a high temperature over the weekend and his GP told him to book a test on the NHS website.

“We couldn’t get anything,” he said. “It just kept saying, ‘sorry there are no tests available at the moment’.

“Eventually we were offered a place in Aberdeen.” They have now been sent a home kit.

“The first week back at school is so important,” he added. “They are missing out on that bonding.”

Matthew Try, headteacher at Hillcrest Primary School in Downham Market, said testing delays was a “massive issue” for schools.

“The profession was persuaded by the government and the scientific and medical communities that the test and trace system would be fully functional by the time the new school year started in September,” he said.

“As the many bugs and germs whose symptoms mirror those of Covid do the rounds later in the autumn term, we could find ourselves sending children home on a regular basis.”

Scott Lyons, from the National Education Union in Norfolk, said schools were frustrated about the testing delays.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), accused health secretary Matt Hancock of being “in denial” about the situation.

Mr Hancock has promised to improve the system but has also blamed some of the problems on people who don’t have symptoms booking tests.

•‘It is working’

Broadland Conservative MP Jerome Mayhew told BBC Radio Norfolk on Friday that he was raising the testing issues with Mr Hancock.

He said Mr Hancock had told him the average distance people travelled for a test was six miles and that 90pc of people were getting tests within 22 miles.

A DHSC spokesman said: “NHS Test and Trace is working. Our capacity is the highest it has ever been and our laboratories are processing more than a million tests a week.

“We are seeing a significant demand for tests but if you have symptoms we urge you to get tested. New booking slots and homes testing kits are made available daily and you can help protect yourself if you wash your hands, cover your face and make space.”

•The good and the bad

Readers on our Facebook page have been sharing their experiences of trying to book a coronavirus test in the region.

Shannen Tuck said: “Shocking! Online service is always ‘very busy’ and yesterday was told my closest drive through service for a test was 83 miles away.”

Dean Kemplay wrote: “I had mine on Saturday and in and out in less than two minutes at (Norwich) Research Park.”

Angela Craig said: “Awful if you book more than one day on advance. There are no available slots for anywhere nearby.

“If you book on the day however they (local test sites) miraculously become available. You get there and it’s incredibly quiet.”

Beverley Lee wrote: “I looked online yesterday and it was showing mobile units in my area just about every day this week.”

The DHSC said booking slots are made available the evening before for morning appointments, and on the morning for afternoon ones.


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