Home Covid tests unavailable and NHS jab booking system crashes amid new rules

13 December 2021, 10:28 | Updated: 13 December 2021, 14:41

There are no lateral flow tests available days before they become essential for vaccine passports and testing contacts of Covid cases
There are no lateral flow tests available days before they become essential for vaccine passports and testing contacts of Covid cases. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

Users of the Government website are being told there are no more lateral flow tests and the NHS website has gone down, just a day before new rules for testing come into force.

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From Tuesday, fully-vaccinated contacts of people with Covid-19 will need to take daily lateral flow tests for a week after their exposure.

They could also be needed for Covid-19 passes.

The rapid tests are supposed to be freely available in boxes of seven, from the Government website or from pharmacies.

But on Monday morning, users of the Government website were told there were no more tests available when they tried to order them.

A message on the site reads: "Sorry, there are no more home test kits available right now.

"Try again later.

"Or, you can go back and try to book a test site appointment instead."

Read more: Daily lateral flow tests for a week for double jabbed Covid contacts

Read more: Health Sec warns of 'race against Omicron' as booster jabs offered to all adults

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there was a "ready supply" of lateral flow tests when speaking to broadcasters on Monday, and said people were "doing the sensible thing" by trying to obtain them.

"They can get those tests, we do have a ready supply of lateral flow tests," he said.

"If you can't get one online for any reason, then there are ample supplies in the shops.

"But what I think, if I may say so, what that also shows is that people are doing the sensible thing, and getting tests as well."

Stocks at pharmacies are also reportedly running low.

A spokesperson for the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) insisted there was no shortage of lateral flow tests but said the site was experiencing "exceptionally high demand" and so online ordering had been "temporarily suspended".

"Everyone who needs a lateral flow test can collect test kits – either at their local pharmacy, some community sites and some schools and colleges," said the spokesperson.

"Due to exceptionally high demand, ordering lateral flow tests on gov.uk has been temporarily suspended to fulfil existing orders."

The spokesperson said the pause was temporary and that availability would be refreshed daily, advising people to check back tomorrow, and to use tests they already have before trying to order more.

In the meantime, the NHS Covid vaccine booking service went down as millions of people became eligible to book their booster jab on Monday morning.

NHS Digital said more than 140,000 vaccine appointments were booked by 10am on Monday, but said the service was struggling with "extremely high demand" and advised people to try booking another time.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said this afternoon that the health service was making sure there was "further capacity" on the NHS website to book booster jabs.

"Across the programme we are increasing our capacity, be it making sure there is further capacity on the site to adapt to the increased demand, or indeed capacity on the ground," he said.

"The vaccine booking service is facing extremely high demand and is operating a queuing system to manage numbers," a spokesperson for NHS Digital said earlier.

"We would advise people currently unable to book to try again later today or tomorrow."

Wales is also experiencing high demand with its vaccine booking system, and people there are also unable to book lateral flow tests.

"We are doing everything we can to accelerate our vaccination programme to increase the number of people who will receive their booster in the coming days and weeks," said a spokesperson for the Welsh Government.

"Older people and those at greatest risk are being prioritised at the moment.

"We are increasing the number of clinics and their opening hours; we have asked all available staff to join vaccination teams to support this national effort."

Sajid Javid admitted to LBC on Monday that the expansion of the booster rollout was going to be difficult for the NHS.

"I’m not going to sit here and pretend that all those jabs, the numbers you mentioned, are going to be done because it depends on many factors," Mr Javid told Nick Ferrari at Breakfast.

"We are throwing everything at this.

Read more: 'No guarantees': Health Sec refuses to rule out school closures in fight against Omicron

Read more: PM faces rebellion from almost 70 Tory MPs over Covid passports

"We have not done anything like this before with our national vaccination programme.

"It is completely new, but we just didn’t want to not have tried this."

He added that civil servants, military personnel and volunteers would all be drafted in to help, and non-urgent GP appointments and hospital procedures would be postponed in order to free up resources for the booster rollout.

"Booster shots, they were important before, but they have never ever been so important," he said.

"This is our best way of dealing with this new variant and please do come forward to protect yourselves, to protect your loved ones and your community."