A number of local people with coronavirus symptoms have told me that they’ve been unable to book an appointment for a test in Sheffield. These are people who want to be responsible and follow government guidelines but are being foiled by a testing system which is clearly close to breaking point.
Shockingly, one local resident was told they would have to travel from Sheffield to Dundee, some 313 miles and an estimated five-and-a-half-hour drive or a difficult train journey, while experiencing debilitating symptoms.
There have been days when not a single testing appointment was available in Sheffield. This situation is completely unacceptable as people are forced to stay at home and isolate while they wait for a local test to become available. Families and individuals may well be unnecessarily losing out on vital income or education, while living with the stress of not knowing whether they have the virus.
For many months, the government advice has been to get tested if “you have symptoms,” or “if you have any doubt.” Yet it seems that there has been a u-turn in that messaging, with Matt Hancock now telling the public to only book tests if they have symptoms.
It appears that, despite the obvious increase in tests that would be required once schools reopened this September and people were encouraged to return to work, the government has not prepared for the extra capacity required.
It’s all well and good for the Prime Minister to talk about delivering 10 million tests a day – his so- called Project Moon Shot – but people can’t access tests now, when demand is much less.
I have written to Matt Hancock to outline my concerns, ask what steps he is taking to increase testing capacity in laboratories, and request clear guidance on when people should get tested. Until the government get to grips with the situation, I will continue to press Ministers to urgently bring the testing system up to par.