I was sent from Leeds to Bolton for a pre-booked Covid-19 test – and still got turned away

Hundreds of people have been turned away at coronavirus test centres after booking a test – this was one reporter's experience

By Susie Beever
Saturday, 19th September 2020, 6:00 am

Sitting in bottleneck traffic in Bolton for two hours was not how I planned my Thursday afternoon.

It was uncomfortably warm on top of my already-raised temperature, I had been stuck in virtually stationary traffic in a town centre I was unfamiliar with for an hour by now and to top things off, my phone was on the cusp of dying with only two per cent battery.

The night before I had noticed symptoms including a cough and a temperature. Still feeling ropey the next day, I went online and booked a test through the Government website.

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Yorkshire Post journalist Susie Beever

If you are one of the hundreds of thousands who has tried to order a home test kit this week, you will know that it feels more or less impossible; the 2020 version of trying to book Glastonbury tickets, as someone referred to it on Twitter.

The nearest test centre which had availability to where I live in Leeds was Bolton. Bolton, which currently has the highest infection rate in England, with more than 560 new cases recorded in the seven days up to 12 September. Not really having an alternative choice, I got in my car and hit the M62 for the 100-mile round trip.

Finding the test centre was easy enough, it was the getting inside that was the difficult bit.

I sat in a queue of rumbling engines for 45 minutes worrying I was in the wrong lane and had actually just gotten caught up in the end-of-school rush hour, when, eventually, like the glimmer of an oasis in the desert, I saw the sign for the Covid test centre, which was in an open car park next to an indoor market in Bolton town centre.

The Covid testing centre in Bolton

About 15 minutes later, and having moved about two feet, a steward came over asking if I was booked in for a test.

I said "yes" and asked where the entrance was.

"Oh you've got a wait still," he replied.

"This snakes all around that building and back around the other side of the car park. It's about another hour."

Workers wear NHS Test and Trace branded hi-vis jackets as they work at a COVID-19 testing centre in Bolton. Picture: Getty

My heart sank. By now, the prospect of self-isolating for two weeks without even knowing if it was necessary seemed a more desirable solution than sitting a minute longer in this town centre-cum-car park.

As the news rolled out on the radio, the headlines were all focused on the jammed system of people trying to book Covid tests.

Head of Test and Trace, Baroness Dido Harding confirmed that demand for tests has "gone through the roof". The current autumn capacity for 242,817 tests a day was built off modelling from Sage scientific advisory group.

Meanwhile, I used the last remnant of phone battery to read that Bolton Council was seeing people being turned away from the test centre due to problems with the booking system. I was potentially sitting in this queue on an afternoon I was supposed to be working for nothing.

The Covid testing centre in Bolton

After waiting another 50 minutes and getting close to the front of the queue, another steward in PPE came over and knocked on the window.

"I'm so sorry, we've reached capacity for today. We're going to have to turn people away."

Once again, my heart sank. Or rather, plummeted into an abyss. I knew this was a possibility, but to be told you have been sitting in traffic for nearly two hours when you are supposed to be at work, all while feeling ill and wasting petrol money, was somehow worse than I imagined.

This has been the experience for hundreds, if not thousands, of people across the country.

The Yorkshire Post reported how one man from Bedale drove to Sunderland on Thursday for a test, only to arrive there and find the centre was closed. Similar issues of traffic gridlock were reported in Lewisham, London.

Workers wear NHS Test and Trace branded hi-vis jackets as they work at a COVID-19 testing centre in Bolton. Picture: Getty

A Department of Health and Social Care Spokesperson said: “NHS Test and Trace is providing tests at an unprecedented scale – 225,000 a day on average over the last week. There has been a spike in demand in recent weeks and the message is clear – only people with symptoms should be requesting a test.

“People who have booked a valid appointment at a testing site will receive a test – sites can use other key information to confirm an appointment if a QR code cannot be provided.

“We are doing everything possible to ensure those who need a test can get a test by targeting capacity at the areas that need it most, including those where there is an outbreak, and prioritising at-risk groups.”