Britain’s testing fiasco leaves doctors and nurses unable to get checked


The UK could be forced to draft in science students to staff coronavirus testing labs which are buckling under the pressure of surging demand for swabs.

A nationwide testing fiasco has left doctors and nurses unable to work because they can’t get checked for the illness, preventing the NHS getting back to normal.

NHS staff are having to leave the frontline to self-isolate because they or family members cannot book a test. NHS Providers says that if the shortage is not addressed soon it will wreak havoc on hospitals as virus cases continue to escalate. 

In another humiliating blow to the testing system, headteachers have warned that schools — which were closed for months because of the pandemic — will ‘grind to a halt’ if teachers can’t get tested quickly.

At least 30 schools have closed already because of cases and one headteacher in Preston said this morning that he already has two staff self-isolating at home and struggling to get tested, along with 10 children. 

Health officials have blamed the crisis – which experts fear will rumble on for weeks – on a staffing shortage in laboratories. Desperate bosses have now admitted they may have to hire students to plug gaps in the rota in the face of sky-high demand.  

But government sources say the actual cause of the crisis is a ‘secret in Whitehall’, while one leading scientist said labs appear to be fully staffed and working normally and that the Department of Health may be wrong about its maximum capacity.

Backlog in the system means government ministers are reportedly considering restricting coronavirus tests and refusing ‘frivolous’ requests from people who don’t need to be swabbed. Speaker of the House of Commons, Lindsay Hoyle, today said the situation was ‘unnaceptable’ and urged the government to get a grip.

Patients have been told to travel hundreds of miles, even to different countries, for tests because there are none available nearby, and swabs have also had to be flown to Germany and Italy for analysis.

The blunder was unveiled by an investigation by the LBC radio station yesterday that found there were no test bookings available at any of the country’s ten coronavirus hotspots including Bolton, Salford, Bradford and Manchester.

But Priti Patel today denied that tests were unavailable in the country’s worst-hit areas. The Home Secretary told BBC Breakfast today that she has seen with her own eyes that swabs are available in towns hit by local lockdown rules. 

Oxford University’s Sir John Bell, who has been advising Number 10 on testing, says the testing fiasco has likely been caused by a ‘second wave’ of Covid-19, triggering a surge in demand for tests.

Professor Alan McNally, who helped set up the Milton Keynes Lighthouse Lab, said a ‘perfect storm’ of events have crashed the testing system. He described the situation as ‘worrying’ because it has happened before the winter and admitted there were ‘clearly underlying issues which nobody wants to tell us about’.  

A man is pictured being turned away from a coronavirus testing centre in Bolton today, which has the highest infection rate in the country

The testing shortage has come days after Downing Street committed to ‘Operation Moonshot’, an ambitious plan to eventually carry out 10million tests a day to track the virus in real time.

Matt Hancock has repeatedly spoken of ‘ramping up’ testing capacity and boasted that Britain now does more swab tests than many of its neighbours. 

But the system seems to be cracking under the pressure of carrying out the approximately 200,000 swabs per day – before ‘Moonshot’ has even begun. 

But today, NHS Providers – an organisation which represents hospital staff – warns that the backlog is hitting the health service’s ability to get back to normal.

Chief executive Chris Hopson said: ‘It’s clear there are capacity problems with the testing regime.

WHAT IS HAPPENING TO TESTING IN THE UK? 

What has gone wrong with coronavirus testing in the UK?

People across England are struggling to get access for swab tests which are used to confirm whether or not they have Covid-19. 

These should be available on the day at drive/walk-through centres or by mail order but many have reported being unable to get them, and instead being met by a ‘service busy’ message on the booking website.

This is even reportedly a problem in areas with local lockdowns, where testing is crucial and mobile test sites are set up to speed up the process.

Why are tests not available for everyone who wants them? 

The Government’s testing system is still not set up to cope with the surging demand now being placed on it. 

It was never advanced enough to offer everyone a test, which is why only people with symptoms are supposed to book the swabs.

Numbers of people catching the virus are rising across the country and the number of people wanting tests is increasing as a result.

Although the Department of Health claims it can process 243,817 swab tests per day, the system is stalling at a lower level – 205,659 were done on Thursday, September 10, the most recent data. 

Health officials have blamed laboratory capacity for the shortage, and the testing chief at NHS Test & Trace apologised for this last week.

Is a lack of staff in labs to blame? 

One suggestion is that labs may not have enough technical staff able to operate the machines that process the swabs. 

More labs are being set up and more staff employed, but this could take weeks or months to translate to big gains in testing capacity.

One of the scientists who helped set up the system, however, has rejected this and said labs are operating normally and ‘there are problems elsewhere in the chain’.

The University of Birmingham’s Professor Alan McNally said on BBC Breakfast: ‘The labs are still fully staffed, they are still churning through huge amounts of samples per day – the same number as they were a couple of months ago – so there are problems elsewhere in the chain…

‘I think this is multi-factorial. I think you almost have a perfect storm of events that have come together to almost essentially crash the testing system.

‘I think there is a surge in demand [and] I think our stated capacity is very different from actually how many tests can be run in a given day.’

What is the impact of growing pressure on test labs?

A large workload for testing labs around the UK means that people’s results are taking longer to process – many people have to wait more than the target 24 hours to find out their result.

This means that the government is throttling the number of tests that are sent out, to avoid completely overwhelming the system, so people in some areas are finding it difficult to access swabs. 

There are concerns that a system that is frustrating or slow to use will put people off and members of the public will stop bothering to use it. 

Should people still be ordering tests?

Yes, anyone who has symptoms of coronavirus (a cough, fever or lost sense of taste/smell) must order a test however they can. People who do not have symptoms, and have not been instructed by a medical professional to get tested, should not order a test.

‘Trust leaders from Bristol, Leeds and London have all raised concerns about the lack of testing availability, leading to greater levels of staff absence.

‘NHS trusts are working in the dark – they don’t know why these shortages are occurring, how long they are likely to last, how geographically widespread they are likely to be and what priority will be given to healthcare workers and their families in accessing scarce tests.’ 

Nurses, doctors and other vital hospital staff are being told to take time off work and self-isolate because they might have coronavirus but can’t get tested.

This is wasting NHS staff time, experts say, at a time when it is crucial that hospitals don’t face any more problems.

There are already tens of thousands of patients who are overdue medical procedures and appointments that had to be postponed or cancelled because of the lockdown, and hospitals are scrambling to get through a massive backlog of patients before winter hits.

Chris Hopson added that the NHS ‘simply can’t spare members of staff waiting for tests, not being able to come into work’.

Sir John Bell, himself a medicine professor and qualified doctor, said the government was not properly prepared for another surge in suspected cases and tests.

He said on BBC Radio 4 this morning: ‘A month ago they had spare capacity in testing – significant spare capacity – but I think what has been underestimated was the speed at which the second wave would arrive.

‘But also the pressure put on the system from children returning to school, and the testing demands associated with that, and people increasingly out and about.

‘So, I think they are definitely behind the curve in terms of getting the necessary tests for what we need today.’ 

A leading scientist who helped set up the lab testing system, however, has rejected claims that it is failing.

Professor Alan McNally, a geneticist at the University of Birmingham, told BBC Breakfast there were ‘clearly underlying issues which nobody wants to tell us about’.

He said: ‘The labs are still fully staffed, they are still churning through huge amounts of samples per day – the same number as they were a couple of months ago – so there are problems elsewhere in the chain…

‘I think this is multi-factorial. I think you almost have a perfect storm of events that have come together to almost essentially crash the testing system.

‘I think there is a surge in demand [and] I think our stated capacity is very different from actually how many tests can be run in a given day.’           

The NHS is not the only place struggling to get enough tests – schools are also feeling the impact of delays in the nationwide system.

The new school year in England started just last week for most children but there are already reports of staff, pupils and even entire classes going into isolation after Covid scares.

One headteacher in Preston, Lancashire, said he has two staff and 10 children already stuck at home because of the virus. The staff, he said, struggled to get tested.

Jim Blakely, head at Garstang St Thomas’ School, told the Today programme: ‘At the moment I’ve got two members of staff not here.  

‘My Year 4 teacher was sent home last Wednesday due to Covid symptoms, a persistent cough, but there were no tests available on Wednesday.

‘So he kept trying to book during the day and in the evening, and there was some test available in some strange places, and these are the same places that parents in my school have been directed to like Aberdeen and Llandudno.

‘Not only are they miles away, but they are in Wales and Scotland. There is very little local testing.’

Mr Blakely’s account matches dozens of others which have seen people say the test booking system has tried to send them to centres tens or hundreds of miles from home.

A woman is pictured taking a swab test for coronavirus at a centre in Bolton this morning. Other people in the town say they are struggling to get appointments for tests

A woman is pictured taking a swab test for coronavirus at a centre in Bolton this morning. Other people in the town say they are struggling to get appointments for tests

Another man denied entry to the testing site in Bolton pleads his case with a member of staff

Another man denied entry to the testing site in Bolton pleads his case with a member of staff

An investigation by the LBC radio station yesterday found there were no test bookings available at any of the country’s ten coronavirus hotspots including Bolton, Salford, Bradford and Manchester

An investigation by the LBC radio station yesterday found there were no test bookings available at any of the country’s ten coronavirus hotspots including Bolton, Salford, Bradford and Manchester

He added: ‘This is going to be a really bumpy ride unless there is quick testing near schools. 

‘And I think that’s what we need really urgently, and a 24 hour turnaround on tests ideally, so families can get back to work and children can get back to school.’    

Care home bosses have also criticised ministers for failing to deliver on their promise to prioritise testing in the vulnerable sector ahead of the winter, amid fears it could be ravaged by a second wave of Covid-19.

NO TESTS AVAILABLE ‘IN 10 OF ENGLAND’S COVID-19 HOTSPOTS’ 

No walk-in, drive-in or postal coronavirus tests are available for people with symptoms of the disease in England’s 10 outbreak hotspots, it was claimed yesterday.

Swabs are not available in Bolton, which is fighting the largest outbreak of the virus in the country with an infection rate of 122 cases for every 100,000 people.

The Government website where testing slots are booked also shows there are no tests available in Salford, Bradford, Blackburn, Oldham, Preston, Pendle, Rochdale, Tameside and Manchester, according to LBC radio. 

When postcodes in each area are put into the testing system it allegedly comes up with the message: ‘This service is currently very busy. More tests should be available later.’

The leader of the council in Bolton, which has Britain’s highest infection rate, said there were ‘major flaws’ with the online booking system and that it was out of the council’s control because the Government runs it. He said the issue was ‘unacceptable’. 

Department of Health officials have already made a desperate appeal for staff to Britain’s biomedical sector, admitting it needs 400 technicians immediately to help fix the testing fiasco. 

The appeal, written by Professor Dame Anna Dominiczak — an expert in medicine at Glasgow University who was drafted in to help, revealed that bosses would hire ‘recent graduates’ with a biology degree to work in labs to analyse coronavirus test samples. 

But she also revealed that health chiefs would be open to hiring current students with ‘some previous lab experience’ to fill holes in rotas on a part-time basis, The Telegraph reports.  

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon piled pressure on the Government yesterday by claiming the backlog was also affecting Scottish patients.

Test results are processed in one of seven Lighthouse Labs across the country in areas including Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire, Loughborough in Leicestershire, Cambridge and Glasgow.

Miss Sturgeon is concerned that the backlog in England is having a knock-on effect in the Glasgow lab, leading to delays in Scotland.

She said yesterday: ‘We’ve been raising these concerns with the UK Government.’

A senior government source last night dismissed her claims as ‘wrong’, adding: ‘It is disappointing the First Minister has decided to play politics with the pandemic.

‘We have been working with the Scottish government through the weekend to ensure they have the support on testing they need. The First Minister should get her own house in order before blaming others.’ 

Yesterday it was revealed that swabs are not available in Bolton, which is fighting the largest outbreak of the virus in the country with an infection rate of 122 cases for every 100,000 people.

The Government website where testing slots are booked also shows there are no tests available in Salford, Bradford, Blackburn, Oldham, Preston, Pendle, Rochdale, Tameside and Manchester, according to LBC radio. 

Coronavirus tests are currently unavailable in the ten centres of the UK's coronavirus outbreak, reports LBC. Pictured above is a testing centre in Bolton, northern England

Coronavirus tests are currently unavailable in the ten centres of the UK’s coronavirus outbreak, reports LBC. Pictured above is a testing centre in Bolton, northern England

Those trying to get tests in the ten UK hotspots are being greeted with this message

Those trying to get tests in the ten UK hotspots are being greeted with this message

NEARLY 500,000 PATIENTS HAVE BEEN WAITING AT LEAST SIX WEEKS FOR KEY TESTS

Nearly half a million patients have been waiting six weeks or more for key diagnostic tests to detect cancer, heart attacks and other serious conditions.

The figures have increased 12-fold in just a year as hospitals struggle with a post-Covid backlog.

Charities fear the long waits will have a devastating impact on NHS patients, particularly those who have cancer which may become untreatable.

Separate data shows that the number of patients having cancer treatment is down by a quarter on the same time last year. The total has fallen by 6,647 to 21,599.

Yesterday the Mail revealed that hospital admissions had plummeted across seven serious illnesses.

There is a growing backlog of patients who were unable to receive treatment at the height of the pandemic and who are now at risk of serious complications.

This number is continuing to rise because social distancing and infection control measures mean hospitals can deal with only a limited number of patients.

The latest NHS data shows that 489,647 patients had been waiting more than six weeks for one of 15 key diagnostic tests in July, the last month for which there are figures.

A shocking 291,982 of them had been waiting at least 13 weeks.

By comparison, in July 2019, just 40,099 had been waiting six weeks or more and 5,675 for at least 13 weeks.

Michelle Mitchell of Cancer Research UK said: ‘Sadly, the Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on cancer services and the lives of cancer patients. There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done to ensure that cancer screening, diagnosis and treatment will not be even more impacted by any future waves of Covid-19.’

Alex Norris, a Labour health spokesman, said: ‘Patients waiting for these tests cannot afford for the Government to be as slow as they have been in other areas. Some of these tests will be used to diagnose cancer, and for those patients, we know that early diagnosis leads to better treatment and survival.’

An NHS spokesman said: ‘Hospitals have been working round the clock throughout the pandemic so that patients can continue to receive vital tests and treatment while staying safe between March and July.’

The backlog is also affecting routine surgery such as hip and knee operations and NHS figures last week showed that 2.1million patients had been waiting at least 18 weeks.

When postcodes in each area are put into the testing system it allegedly comes up with the message: ‘This service is currently very busy. More tests should be available later.’

The leader of the council in Bolton, which has Britain’s highest infection rate, said there were ‘major flaws’ with the online booking system and that it was out of the council’s control because the Government runs it. He said the issue was ‘unacceptable’. 

Ms Patel said it was ‘wrong to say’ that there were no tests available after she was quizzed about the long delays in trying to book a test in Bolton where the infection rate is the highest in England.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast this morning, she said: ‘Tests are available, you’ve heard me say, particularly in local lockdown areas, I’ve seen this myself, I’ve seen the teams that have been working on this.

‘Mobile testing is going in, capacity is going into local areas where lockdowns have been undertaken and are taking place.

‘I think it is wrong to say tests are not available, new book-in slots are being made available every single day, mobile testing units are being made available.

‘And on top of that home testing kits are being issued across the country but specifically in local lockdown areas.’

But the Home Secretary added: ‘Clearly there is much more work that needs to be undertaken with Public Health England and the actual public health bodies in those particular local areas.

‘As a Government we work with Public Health England to surge where there is demand in local hotspot areas and we continue to do that.’

On access to testing, she said the majority of tests are available within a 10-mile radius.

‘It seems to me there’ll be extreme cases where people can’t get to test locations within that radius but that doesn’t mean that Public Health England are not working night and day to boost capacity,’ she added. 

Head teachers have also warned schools will also be hit by staff being unable to get tested quickly.

One primary head in Southampton told The Guardian how three self-isolating staff were unable to get swabs, adding: ‘We will grind to a halt if the availability of tests does not improve rapidly.’

Another primary school head in Sussex said test shortages will ‘derail the reopening’ and ensure instability for both staff and pupils.

Labour MP Stella Creasy yesterday described the situation as an ‘absolute farce’. 

She told BBC Radio 4’s World At One: ‘I’ve had lots of parents get in touch with me this morning because they’ve got children with symptoms that are listed… who need to get a test who cannot book one online, who’ve been trying all over the weekend to book one.

‘Our walk-in centre which is on their doorstep yesterday started turning people away if they didn’t have an appointment, which would make sense if it was busy but I’ve been down there myself and there’s nothing happening there.

‘They don’t know how many tests they need to do, they don’t know how many scientists they need and they don’t know what the demand is.’

Priti Patel denied that tests were unavailable in the country's worst-hit areas.

Oxford University's Sir John Bell, who has been advising ministers, believes the fiasco has been caused by a 'second wave' of Covid-19 had led to a surge in demand for tests

Priti Patel (left) denied that tests were unavailable in the country’s worst-hit areas. The Home Secretary told BBC Breakfast today that she has seen with her own eyes that swabs are available in towns hit by local lockdown rules. Oxford University’s Sir John Bell (right), who has been overseeing Number 10’s antibody test programme and advising ministers, believes the fiasco has been caused by a ‘second wave’ of Covid-19 had led to a surge in demand for tests

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon piled pressure on the Government by claiming the backlog was also affecting Scottish patients

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon piled pressure on the Government by claiming the backlog was also affecting Scottish patients

PRITI PATEL DENIES THERE ARE A LACK OF TESTS IN BADLY-HIT AREAS

Home Secretary Priti Patel said it was ‘wrong to say’ that there were no tests available after she was quizzed about the long delays in trying to book a test in Bolton where the infection rate is the highest in England.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, she said: ‘Tests are available, you’ve heard me say, particularly in local lockdown areas, I’ve seen this myself, I’ve seen the teams that have been working on this.

‘Mobile testing is going in, capacity is going into local areas where lockdowns have been undertaken and are taking place.

‘I think it is wrong to say tests are not available, new book-in slots are being made available every single day, mobile testing units are being made available.

‘And on top of that home testing kits are being issued across the country but specifically in local lockdown areas.’

The Government is ‘surging capacity’ in local lockdown areas and tests are available within a 10-mile radius, she added.

Ms Patel said: ‘Clearly there is much more work that needs to be undertaken with Public Health England and the actual public health bodies in those particular local areas.

‘As a Government we work with Public Health England to surge where there is demand in local hotspot areas and we continue to do that.”

On access to testing, she said the majority of tests are available within a 10-mile radius.

‘It seems to me there’ll be extreme cases where people can’t get to test locations within that radius but that doesn’t mean that Public Health England are not working night and day to boost capacity,’ she added.

Last week Boris Johnson said he wanted to carry out millions of tests a day as part of a highly ambitious strategy known as ‘Operation Moonshot’. 

But scientists warned that the plans were ‘fundamentally flawed’ and even dangerous as the tests can wrongly tell people they are either positive or negative.  

The testing chief of NHS Test & Trace last week issued a public apology on Twitter and said lab capacity was to blame for slow turnaround times and people being unable to order swabs.

It is not clear why labs are struggling to process the tests, which are the same as they have been throughout the pandemic. 

One government source told The Times that Britain was in for a ‘rough few weeks’ until another lighthouse lab opens in Leicestershire.

Lord Bethell of Romford, the testing minister, blamed the return of children to school for putting ‘enormous pressure’ on testing centres because youngsters are often joined by their parents and other household members.

He told peers yesterday that Number 10 was ‘throwing everything we can’ at the system to make it work.

On September 10, 227,465 tests were processed while the Department of Health claimed it had the capacity to cope with 364,917 in a day.

Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, claimed it ‘beggars belief’ that ministers didn’t use the summer to ramp up testing capacity ahead of schools reopening. 

LBC’s Westminster correspondent Ben Kentish said that when they tried to get tests in any of the ten areas, they were not offered one.

‘The government testing website simply says the service is very busy and people should come back in a few hours,’ he said. 

‘We tried to get a test in the top ten areas. In all ten they were unable to get any sort of tests in any of the ten areas.’

Coronavirus test appointments are uploaded on the Government’s testing portal throughout the day, meaning those looking to book a test are advised to check back regularly.

Once each test is booked the site shows there are none available in the area at present. 

All the ten areas that yesterday did not have tests available are listed by Public Health England as the areas of England with the biggest coronavirus outbreaks.

Their latest report placed Bolton at the top of the list, followed by Bradford with 72 cases per 100,000, Oldham with 66 cases per 100,000 and Salford with 62 cases per 100,000. 

SECOND WAVE TO BLAME FOR LACK OF TESTS, TOP EXPERT CLAIMS

An Oxford University expert who has been overseeing the government’s antibody testing programme and advising ministers blamed a second wave for the testing fiasco.

Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that a spike in Covid-19 cases had led to a surge in demand for tests.

He said: ‘I think what’s going wrong is the second wave.

‘A month ago they had spare capacity in testing – significant spare capacity – but I think what has been underestimated was the speed at which the second wave would arrive, but also the pressure put on the system from children returning to school, and the testing demands associated with that, and people increasingly out and about.

‘So, I think they are definitely behind the curve in terms of getting the necessary tests for what we need today.”

Sir John said there would be a ‘significant increase’ in testing capacity over the next two weeks.

‘But this will get worse because of course we haven’t hit winter yet – we haven’t all started to sniffle, get fevers, get colds, and that’s going to add additional confusion to the problem,’ he said.

‘The demand will go up. The real question is whether they can get supply in a position where it can outpace demand, and that’s the challenge at the moment.’

Testing shortages came to the fore last week when people revealed they were either being sent dozens of miles away from home to get a test, while others were unable to get any at all.

Online booking systems were unable to process requests for tests meaning people who thought they might have the coronavirus had to go without.

In response the chief of testing at NHS Test & Trace, Sarah-Jane Marsh, issued a ‘heartfelt apology’ last week.

Ms Marsh said there was capacity at testing sites but laboratories processing the tests are at a ‘critical pinch-point’. She added that the system is doing ‘all it can to expand quickly’.

There have been reports of people being told there are no appointments available at test centres in England and that there are no home tests kits available to send out.

Ms Marsh wrote on Twitter: ‘Can I please offer my heartfelt apologies to anyone who cannot get a Covid test at present.

‘All of our testing sites have capacity, which is why they don’t look overcrowded; it’s our laboratory processing that is the critical pinch-point. We are doing all we can to expand quickly.

‘We have additional NHS, Lighthouse, University and Partner Labs all due to open up imminently and we are also expanding the use of non-Laboratory based tests. The testing team work on this 18 hours a day, seven days a week. We recognise the country is depending on us.’     

Embarrassingly, the problems come as Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week committed to his Operation Moonshot and to getting mass testing up and running in the UK by next year.

He said a pilot programme will be launched in Salford next month which will see audiences at both indoor and outdoor venues tested on the day to see if they are infectious. 

Those who test positive for coronavirus will be sent home while those who test negative will be allowed in. 

The PM said if the pilot is successful the measures could be rolled out nationwide and that he wanted everybody in the UK to eventually have access to daily coronavirus testing, with pregnancy-style checks providing results in as little as 15 minutes. 

Mr Johnson told a Downing Street coronavirus press conference that negative tests would effectively provide people with a ‘passport’ which would allow them a ‘freedom to mingle with everybody else who is similarly not infectious in a way that is currently impossible’.  

The Prime Minister said he hoped the mass testing approach will be ‘widespread by the spring’. 

Mr Johnson told a press conference last week that up until now testing has been used primarily to identify people who have the disease so they can be isolated from the rest of society. 

The PM said that will continue to be the priority with a goal of increasing testing capacity to 500,000 a day by the end of October. 

But he said that ‘in the near future we want to start using testing to identify people who are negative… so we can allow them to behave in a more normal way’.

He said new types of coronavirus tests which are ‘simple, quick and scalable will become available’ allowing for results in 90 or even 20 minutes and for tests to be administered in their millions everyday. 

Mr Johnson said: ‘That level of testing would allow people to lead more normal lives, without the need for social distancing.’

Ms Marsh said there is capacity at testing sites but laboratories processing the tests are at a 'critical pinch-point'

Ms Marsh said there is capacity at testing sites but laboratories processing the tests are at a ‘critical pinch-point’

Bolton has been placed under strengthened lockdown restrictions following a surge in cases, and last week became the first place in England to be forced to move pubs back to a takeaway only service.

Other measures imposed include a limit on opening hours, with venues required to close from 10pm to 5am, and a law stating people cannot socialise outside of their household.

A further 96 cases of people with coronavirus were confirmed yesterday in Bolton, bringing its cumulative total to 3,239.

A spokesman for Bolton council said they are aware the Government is planning to open three new walk-in and drive-in test centres in their area so that more appointments will be available.

Leader of the council, David Greenhalgh, said today: ‘We completely understand how frustrating it is for people who are finding it difficult to book a test.

‘This is an unacceptable situation, and myself and senior officers have escalated the issue to the highest levels.

‘In our experience, there are major flaws with the online booking system, but this is a nationally run site, which is not locally run and is out of our control.

‘We, as a local authority have done everything asked of us. Our teams have been working hard to increase testing capacity in Bolton – two new test centres have opened in the borough and a third is due to open this week; and yet we know these two new sites are currently operating below capacity, and our own residents cannot access a local test.

‘This is unacceptable and it needs to get sorted and the issues resolved, and I urge Government to treat this as a matter of the utmost priority.

‘We would ask people to try booking an appointment in a few hours. Also, please only book a test if you have coronavirus symptoms or you have been asked to get tested.’

Matt Hancock last week accused people of trying to get a coronavirus test when they didn’t have symptoms of the virus, alleging they had seen a 25 per cent surge in demand for these cases.

Guidance makes clear the tests are only for those who have symptoms, or who have been asked to get a test by authorities.

Mr Hancock appealed for only those with symptoms to get a test, in response to a backlog caused by ‘lab issues’. 

A sign in Bolton orders those suffering coronavirus symptoms to get a test, despite a lack of testing capacity

A sign in Bolton orders those suffering coronavirus symptoms to get a test, despite a lack of testing capacity

Ms Sturgeon has accused the UK government of trying to limit the number of tests available in Scotland while speaking at the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing. 

‘We were concerned over the weekend that one of the ways the UK Government was trying to deal with the backlog was to restrict access to testing, and the Health Secretary managed to avoid that happening in Scotland,’ she said.

She also expressed ‘serious concern’ about the testing backlog and urged Mr Hancock to share the ‘full scale and nature of issues they are facing’ so her Government could help to try and fix the problem.  

She continued: ‘There was a proposal over the weekend that the available slots at mobile testing units and regional testing centres in Scotland would be reduced and the Health Secretary managed to avoid that happening so that we retained full capacity for Scotland.

‘We have no indication at the moment that there is any significant issue in Scotland with people accessing testing slots.

‘The issue that we do appear to be suffering some impacts from – and again it’s a UK-wide issue – is a backlog in tests being processed that is then leading to a longer turnaround time.’

Scotland’s Health Secretary, Jeane Freeman, said she had ‘constructive conversations’ with Mr Hancock and her Welsh counterpart Vaughan Gething about the backlog, which she said was caused by rising demand and an ‘issue with the speed and capacity of processing the tests’. 

She added: ‘I was pleased that we managed not to have the restrictions on access to testing slots that were originally being proposed, but this is work that we need to continue because we need to try as best we can to work cooperatively and to resolve this situation.’

The Government’s data shows that growth in testing capacity has largely stalled since mid-July, when around 350,000 tests were processed every day.

On September 10, the latest day for which data is available, show 374,000 tests were processed by labs across the country.

It comes as the UK records a sudden surge in coronavirus cases, with daily reported cases remaining above 2,000 for more than a week.

A further 2, 621 cases of coronavirus were recorded today in the UK amid mounting fears of a second wave.

Government statistics now show some 2,998 infections are being recorded each day, on average. For comparison, more than 3,300 cases were confirmed on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Top experts insist the UK doesn’t yet need to panic over the rising numbers because they are only a fraction of the 100,000-plus that occurred each day during the darkest period of the crisis. Other scientists, however, say action is needed to prevent Britain being hit by another wave.

Another nine deaths from coronavirus were also recorded, taking the official number of coronavirus victims to 41,637.

The UK’s Department of Health has been contacted for comment. 

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