Testing scandal: Southend testing centre hit by 'concerning' queues

15 September 2020, 15:49 | Updated: 15 September 2020, 18:07

A testing centre in Southend has been overwhelmed by large numbers of people without an appointment
A testing centre in Southend has been overwhelmed by large numbers of people without an appointment. Picture: Getty Images

A coronavirus testing centre in Southend has been hit by a 'concerning' number of people queuing as people who have not booked appointment scramble to get swabbed for the virus.

Pictures show hundreds of people queuing outside the facility in the town on Tuesday morning, with many reportedly not having an appointment.

Reports suggest that many turning up at the site had been unable to book a test online for several days and that the testing site had run out of testing kits yesterday morning.

Responding to complaints on Twitter, Southend-on-Sea Borough Council labelled the situation "concerning" and blamed people "turning up to be tested without an appointment".

The council added it had raised the issue with the Department for Health and Social Care, which runs the site.

Councillor Ian Gilbert, leader of the council, says: “We know that local people are having problems with the availability of appointments via the national booking site. We have raised these concerns at a national level.

“I was also concerned to see images of large queues outside the testing centre. It is clear from these images that people are turning up to be tested without an appointment, and this is another issue that we have raised urgently with the Department for Health and Social Care who run the local walk-through testing site.

“I urge people to only attend the Short Street site if they have a booked appointment, and to please only book a test if you have coronavirus symptoms.

"Booking or turning up for a test without symptoms will take testing capacity from those people with symptoms who really need it.”

It follows days of chaos surrounding the NHS Test and Trace system, which has told thousands of people that either no testing kits are available or to travel many miles away from their hometown.

In the House of Commons on Friday afternoon, health secretary Matt Hancock admitted that there are "operational challenges" with testing which the Government is "working hard" to fix.

He said: "We've seen a sharp rise in people coming forward for a test, including those who are not eligible.

"And throughout this pandemic we have prioritised testing according to need."

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the Commons it was "inevitable that demand rises" because Covid-19 testing is free.

Read more: No coronavirus tests available in top 10 England hotspots

Labour's shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth asked why the Government did not foresee a rise in infections.

He added: "When schools reopen and people return to workplaces and social distancing becomes harder infections rise.

"So extra demand on the system was inevitable, so why didn't he use the summer to significantly expand NHS lab capacity and fix contact tracing?"

Responding, Mr Hancock said: "I don't deny that it is an enormous challenge and when you have a free service it's inevitable that demand rises.

"The challenge is to make sure that we prioritise the tests we have as a nation to those who most need it."

Senior Conservatives have also been critical of the Government's handling of the testing system, including chair of the Health and Social Care Committee and former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, who raised issued in his own Surrey constituency.

He said: "A week ago today the Secretary of State told the Health Select Committee that he expected to have this problem solved in two weeks.

"Since then in my constituency I have had two Farnham residents sent to Bristol for their tests, a councillor sent to the Isle of Wight for her test and a teacher who tested positive had to wait a week for her results."

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Testing is available and it is wrong to suggest otherwise. We are seeing significant demand but more than a million tests are being processed every week – with around 200,000 every day on average over the last week.

“We are targeting testing capacity at areas where it is needed most, with new booking slots and home testing kits made available daily for people with symptoms.

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