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Testing chaos continues as patients turned away from empty sites

PUBLISHED: 10:51 14 September 2020 | UPDATED: 16:54 14 September 2020

Mike Lowe and Chloe Brown from Earlham with their children. Their son Ethan, 9, needed a coronavirus test after developing a cough and temperature, but they were turned away from a site as they had not been sent a QR code. Photo: Chloe Brown

Mike Lowe and Chloe Brown from Earlham with their children. Their son Ethan, 9, needed a coronavirus test after developing a cough and temperature, but they were turned away from a site as they had not been sent a QR code. Photo: Chloe Brown

Archant

Major problems booking coronavirus tests continued over the weekend, with families being turned away from sites - despite booking slots.

Testing centres are sitting empty while people struggle to book coronavirus tests because of a lack of lab capacity. Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA WireTesting centres are sitting empty while people struggle to book coronavirus tests because of a lack of lab capacity. Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

On Thursday people were refused tests at a temporary mobile testing unit at Carrow Road, because they had not been sent a QR code when they had booked a test online.

Authorities said last week that this was an IT glitch which was “unique to Norfolk” and was being resolved.

But those booking tests said that was not correct.

After trying to book from Saturday morning onwards, Katie Grieve, from north Norfolk, finally got a slot at Postwick Park and Ride on Sunday at 4.30pm for her and daughter Luli, 10.

Postwick park and ride coronavirus test centre. Picture: Mike PagePostwick park and ride coronavirus test centre. Picture: Mike Page

She showed a screenshot of her confirmation email at the entrance, but was told that without a QR code she could not get a test.

“I could see other cars turning around as well,” she said. “You could see all the tents but not one person was having a test. It was a ghost town.”

Mrs Grieve, who works in a school, added: “I spoke to a manager who looked like he wanted to cry.”

It took Mrs Grieve more than 24 hours to book the test and throughout Saturday the NHS website stated that there were no available slots.

Postwick Park and Ride which is currently being used as a Covid-19 testing station. Photo: ArchantPostwick Park and Ride which is currently being used as a Covid-19 testing station. Photo: Archant

She has emailed her MP Duncan Baker to complain. “It is appalling,” she said. “I feel like I’m living in a nightmare.”

Parents Mike Lowe and Chloe Brown, from Earlham, have been trying to book a test for their son Ethan since Friday.

On Sunday they managed to get a slot at a mobile testing unit at Great Yarmouth.

But when they arrived they were also turned away for not having a QR code.

“I even rang 119 before we left to make sure it was OK to turn up. He gave us an address and said we will be fine.” Mr Lowe, 31, said.

When they arrived there were only three other vehicles waiting to get a test but they were told to drive back home, Mr Lowe said.

If they cannot get a test for Ethan, they will have to keep their children off school and cannot go into work.

“We know it is probably a cold, but we don’t want to be responsible for an outbreak in Norwich,” Mr Lowe said.

“I’m a working class man and can see that there was going to be loads of children needing tests when school started, so why can’t the government see it?”

After problems were raised with people being turned away from the Carrow Road testing unit for not having a QR code on Thursday, Norfolk’s director of public health, Dr Louise Smith, said: “We have spoken to the Department of Health who run these units and have been advised the system should now be fully functional.

“There was an IT or digital issue unique to Norfolk which has now, we hope, been resolved.”

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However, people across the country have reported similar issues.

Mother Annalee Wood was turned away from an empty testing site at Manchester Airport on Thursday, the Manchester Evening News reported.

Parent Kirstie Penman was also turned away from a testing site in Telford after not being sent a QR code, the MailOnline reported.

A Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesman said last week that a record number of tests were being done and urged people to only book a test if they had symptoms.

They said: “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.”

See also: Families told to get Covid-19 tests hundreds of miles away

•‘You had one job’

One Norfolk headteacher said problems getting tests were threatening to shut down schools as so many staff and children were struggling to book slots.

He said: “The government had one job to do - keep schools open, and thus, key workers at work.

“So many parents whose children have the usual back to school runny noses and mild colds are so confused over what to do.

“One’s a GP and she said she can’t even get a priority test for her kids, only for herself. So if the children pick up a cough or a temperature, under the current system, she’s off work for a fortnight.

“The government still doesn’t understand that key public services such as schools and the health system can only stay open with immediate testing and 24-hour results. Anything less and the system will collapse in fairly short order.”

Union boss and former Suffolk headteacher Geoff Barton said: “We are very concerned that the fantastic work of schools and colleges in putting in place a raft of safety measures in order to fully reopen for the autumn term is at risk of being derailed by a lack of capacity in the test and trace system.

“Staff and pupils must be able to obtain tests immediately and easily, so that if they are clear of the virus they can return to school as soon as possible.”

See also: When should I get my child tested?

•Labs run out of capacity

Tests are being sent to labs in Germany and Italy to be processed as the government deals with a backlog of 185,000 swabs, documents leaked to the Sunday Times revealed.

The DHSC said it plans to rapidly expand capacity in the coming weeks and new technology will be brought in to process tests faster.

Last week, NHS Test and Trace’s director of testing apologised to people who were unable to get a test and said this was caused by lab capacity issues, rather than a lack of testing sites.


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