Patients sent 200 miles for Covid-19 test despite 5-minute wait at local walk-in

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People have been told to travel up to 200 miles for a Covid-19 test despite a local walk-in centre having less than a five-minute wait to be seen.

According to local MP Stella Creasy, constituents in Walthamstow, East London have been told by the government’s Test and Trace to travel 208 miles to Oldham, 130 miles to Coventry and 167 miles to Newport in Wales for a test.

But they were freely available, almost immediately and without appointment on their doorstep.

The Mirror observed the Stanley Road walk-in site in Walthamstow this morning.

In the space of half an hour, there was never a queue of more than two people waiting to be tested – and for the vast majority of the time, there was no queue at all.

No patient during the period had to wait more than five minutes.

Staff said that while there had been longer queues on occasion at the site, it had only tested between 350 and 400 people a day since opening a week ago.

The centre is open between 8am and 8pm – averaging around 30 tests an hour.

Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock have blamed too many members of the public booking tests who don’t have symptoms for the chaos.

But Ms Creasy said the local council had been ordered not to advertise the walk-in centre to locals who went online to seek a test.

She added: “I spent an hour yesterday standing outside to count how many people went in and it was 5 including at least two who had heard about the centre and go on spec.

“Meanwhile my office is getting lots of people contacting furious that they are being asked to go to all sorts of random places for a test if they want one.”

It comes amid reports from up and down the country of people trying to book a test locally – only to be told to travel often hundreds of miles for the nearest available centre.

At Prime Minister’s Questions, Labour Leader Keir Starmer told the story of a mother who lives in London trying to secure a Covid-19 test for her four-year-old daughter.

He said the woman was told the nearest place for a test was Telford or Inverness, before being offered Swansea as an option.

Sir Keir added: “This is frankly ridiculous. Who does the Prime Minister think is responsible for this?”

Mr Johnson admitted he was responsible for the situation, but followed Health Secretary Matt Hancock in indicating the situation had been caused by public demand for tests from people who did not have symptoms.

He said the Test and Trace system was doing a “heroic job” of getting people tested – with capacity of 500,000 expected to be available by the end of October.

He added: “I of course sympathise with all those who are facing difficulties getting a test as fast as they want but demand is at an unprecedented high, particularly because of demand for asymptomatic patients.

“This country has done more tests – 17.6 million – than any other country in Europe.”

Earlier, Mr Hancock attempted to shift the blame after people with coughs and fevers were told to travel more than 300 miles to get tested for Covid-19.

Yesterday an NHS testing director apologised and admitted that while test sites had capacity, there was a “pinch point” in labs processing the results.

Yet Mr Hancock – who has admitted it will take “weeks” to solve the problem – chose to point the finger at rising demand from asymptomatic people who, according to current rules, shouldn’t be tested at all.

The Health Secretary insisted the test and trace system was “excellent” and claimed the problems were due to soaring demand from people not eligible for a test.

In most cases people should only get a coronavirus test if they have one of the three symptoms of Covid-19 – a cough, fever or loss of taste or smell.

Mr Hancock told Sky News: “In the last couple of weeks we’ve seen an increase in demand, including an increase in demand from people who are not eligible for tests, people who don’t have symptoms.

“We’ve seen an increase of about 25% of people who are coming forward that don’t have symptoms and aren’t eligible.”

Mr Hancock stressed that anyone with coronavirus symptoms must still get a test.

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