No slots left at Wigan's coronavirus testing centre as 'failures' of national system lead to massive demand

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Wigan’s coronavirus testing centre has had to stop taking bookings due to overwhelming demand from people with symptoms.

The town centre facility on Chapel Lane was opened by Wigan Council last month as part of efforts to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

It is separate from the national scheme, which currently faces a raft of concerns from the public and politicians that it is struggling to cope with a surge in demand.

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But people who cannot get a test through the Government’s system have been turning to Wigan Council’s website to book a test instead.

No new tests can be booked at the centre on Chapel LaneNo new tests can be booked at the centre on Chapel Lane
No new tests can be booked at the centre on Chapel Lane

Last week, the council’s director of public health Prof Kate Ardern admitted the Chapel Lane site was feeling the pressure of the rising demand for tests nationwide. She said there had been a “knock-on effect” and staff were working “really hard” to address it.

Yesterday the council’s website stated the centre had been “temporarily closed for bookings” and advised people to seek a test elsewhere while its backlog was cleared.

Wigan Council leader David Molyneux said: “It is absolutely unacceptable that six months into the pandemic we still haven’t got a proper testing regime in place and residents are being told to travel for miles to get a test.

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“The testing centre at Chapel Lane operates independently to the national system and has limited capacity for general testing. Like many other local authorities, we are seeing a large number of residents attempting to use our local testing centre as a result of failures in the national testing system.

“Our team has been working hard to accommodate as many appointments as possible, but given this surge in demand, we have been forced to temporarily suspend the online booking system for new appointments at Chapel Lane while we deal with the backlog.

“We will be pushing our case to the government to ask how issues can be resolved as a matter of urgency.”

Wigan MP Lisa Nandy blasted the Government for not having a plan to meet increased demand.

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She said: “It was obvious that re-opening the economy by encouraging people back to work, pubs and restaurants, and children back to school would have an effect on the spread of the virus and increase demand for tests.

“It is therefore astonishingly incompetent that the Government had no plan put in place ahead of time to meet that extra demand.

“We’ve had plenty of big promises, ‘moonshots’ and ‘world-beating’ plans, but the reality is that there are tests piling up unprocessed due to a lack of laboratory space and tests being thrown away because of errors in transportation.”

A spokesman for the Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham said: “At a time when Greater Manchester is being bit harder by Covid than any other part of the country it is not acceptable that people here cannot access a test locally.

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“Our local authorities are doing all they can to increase capacity in places like Bolton but we are hamstrung by serious issues with the national booking system and nationally run sites. The Government must act immediately to get this sorted and work with us to establish a better long-term solution to this problem.”

It comes amid signs of strain on testing capabilities causing large queues, people reporting they have been unable to get tests and others being offered tests hundreds of miles from their homes.

Wiganers have reported being told to travel as far away as Scotland and Wales to get tests.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock admitted last week there had been “challenges in access to tests” but insisted “the vast majority of people get their tests rapidly and close to home”.