Report by Victoria Munro, Local Democracy Reporter
A Walthamstow resident “was directed to Inverness for a Covid test” despite there being a testing centre in the borough.
Other residents said there were no tests available on the government website as the testing system struggled last month to cope with rising demand. The leader of Waltham Forest Council, Clare Coghill, described the lack of tests – apparently caused by limited lab capacity – as “hugely frustrating”.
A walk-in testing centre opened in August at Stanley Road Car Park, in Bakers Arms, but Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy revealed on Twitter that one of her constituents had been directed to get a test in Inverness, 562 miles away. The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) later said it was making improvements to the system so no-one would be directed to a centre more than 75 miles away.
Stella said: “I went and stood outside (Stanley Road) 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 told the Local Democracy Reporting Service she had written to health secretary Matt Hancock about the lack of tests and urged residents to keep trying. She said: “We have worked with DHSC to open a walk-in centre in Stanley Road 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 while 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.”
A DHSC spokesperson 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.”
For more information about how to get tested: