Covid test shortage in Waltham Forest as system struggles to cope

A Walthamstow resident was directed to Inverness for a Covid test, despite there being a testing centre in the district.

Other residents say there are no tests available on the Government website as the testing system struggles to cope with rising demand.

The leader of Waltham Forest Council, Clare Coghill, says the lack of tests due to limited lab capacity is “hugely frustrating” but the council was told the situation should improve in the coming weeks.

Walthamstow’s testing centre is located on Stanley Road car park and is available for appointments and walk-ins, with appointments given priority.

MP Stella Creasy tweeted yesterday (September 9) that a resident had been directed to Inverness, 562 miles and an almost 10-hour drive away.

But the Department of Health and Social Care said it is making improvements to the system so no one is directed to a centre more than 75 miles away from them.

Ms Creasy told BBC News yesterday: “I went and stood outside (the Stanley Road testing centre) for an hour to see how many people were using it. Five people turned up.

“Meanwhile my inbox is full of people being told to go to places like Oldham, Coventry, Luton, Brighton, Newport, places that are actually already under lockdown, to get a test by the national system.”

Cllr Coghill has written to Health Secretary Matt Hancock about the lack of tests and urged residents to keep trying.

She said: “We have worked with the Department for Health and Social Care to open a walk-in centre in Stanley Road car park to increase testing capacity but it has become clear that it is the lab capacity sitting behind this that is not keeping up with demand.

“At a time when we are seeing a significant increase in cases across the UK and local authorities are working hard to promote the need for testing to stop the spread of the virus it is hugely frustrating that the system itself isn’t meeting demand.

“If we are to control the virus and save lives these responses to people that are worried and concerned whether they have the virus aren’t good enough.

“I would urge residents that have symptoms to continue to attempt to book tests through the Government website and self-isolate whilst they are awaiting results. I share people’s frustration that it is taking time to get a test but it is still the right course of action.

“We have been told by the Department for Health and Social Care that they are increasing laboratory capacity and that the current situation should improve in the coming weeks.”

The Dept of Health and Social Care processes more than a million tests a week but estimates a quarter of those booking one are not “eligible”.

They said: “NHS Test and Trace is working and our capacity is the highest it has ever been but we are seeing a significant demand for tests including from people who do not have symptoms and are not otherwise eligible.

“New booking slots and home testing kits are made available daily for those who need them and we are targeting testing capacity at the areas that need it most, including those where there is an outbreak, and prioritising at-risk groups.

“If you do not have symptoms and are not eligible to get a test you can continue to protect yourself if you wash your hands, wear a face covering and follow social distancing rules.”

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Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter