Website for booking Covid tests struggles to cope with surge in demand

Noble Horvath

“MP says constituents in Twickenham found they could get access to Covid-19 tests by using Aberdeen postcode” Click to expand UP NEXT People attempting to book a local coronavirus test on the government’s website say technical problems are preventing them from checking availability, as the system struggles to cope with […]

“MP says constituents in Twickenham found they could get access to Covid-19 tests by using Aberdeen postcode”

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People attempting to book a local coronavirus test on the government’s website say technical problems are preventing them from checking availability, as the system struggles to cope with the number of requests.

A growing number of visitors said they had received a message stating that “this service is currently very busy”. 

Although the online portal should allow users to opt between drive-through and walk-through tests, some users are reporting errors which prevent them from checking whether a test is even available in their area.

One site visitor said he thought he had found a coding error which made the site show “no test sites found” whenever he tried to opt between a drive-through or a walk-through test.

There have also been multiple reports of test centre workers telling people they could use a glitch in the system and access local tests by pretending their postcode is in Aberdeen.  

Munira Wilson, the Lib Dem MP for Twickenham, told the Commons earlier this week that several of her own constituents had been advised to put a Scottish postcode into the site to get a QR code that would work locally.

The government said the postcode loophole has now been closed. A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “Using incorrect postcodes to get a test is not permitted and testing sites should not process appointments that have been allocated to different sites.”

“If someone turns up with the wrong QR code for a site, they will be turned away from the site and advised to go to the correct site they booked on. People who have booked a valid appointment at a testing site will receive a test.”

The spokesperson added: “There has been a spike in demand in recent weeks. Only people with symptoms should be requesting a test.”

In recent days the struggle to cope with demand at community testing labs means diagnostics have not available for people with coronavirus symptoms in some of England’s worst affected areas.

As of Wednesday morning, it was not possible to book a test in Bolton – which currently has the highest infection rate in England – or any of the 10 local authorities with the highest Covid-19 infection rates.

Matt Hancock is expected to set out a new system to prioritise key groups and areas to cope with shortages on Thursday, having admitted problems could continue for several weeks.

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