Government system sends people 350-mile round trips for Covid testing

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Those in Felixstowe, Suffolk, were directed to Clacton-on-Sea in Essex, with the government’s coronavirus testing booking website saying it is just 13.8 miles away, although it is within 40 miles by car. And patients from Weston-super-Mare have been referred to a testing center in Cardiff – a 54-mile journey by road, or 13 miles across the sea.

It comes amid a shortage of testing across the country, with testing capacity reduced in some areas and diverted to those experiencing epidemics.

As a result, patients are increasingly referred to sites several hundred kilometers away.

Patients from Kent were referred to testing sites in Edinburgh, 470 miles away, while those from London were told to travel to the Isle of Wight.

MPs said testing capacity had “completely evaporated” in parts of the country. Ian Mearns of Labor said his Gateshead constituency had so few tests available they were sold out by 10 a.m.

Government officials said local shortages were occurring because testing was diverted to areas that needed it most.

But in parts of the country, patients said they went to testing sites that claimed to be full, only to find them empty.

Government sources said officials were trying to fix the issues, so those looking for tests would not be asked to travel more than 75 miles. However, this means that in areas with insufficient capacity, patients would rather be advised to try again later.

Officials said they are still trying to make changes to their mapping systems to ensure travel times reflect road journeys, rather than air or sea journeys.

Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth has called for “urgent action” to address the issues.

He said: “The reservation system clearly has no appreciation of local circumstances; indeed, it is as if he thought that people could walk on water to get to the nearest testing center. “

One person from Felixstowe who tried to book a test online said: “If I was traveling by boat, then Clacton would be my nearest test center.

“I tried to book online but only had the option to go to Clacton so I called 119. The operator got the same results. They told me it was not just my area – some people in Newcastle are referred to testing centers in Scotland instead of the city ones.


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