Members of the public ordering Covid-19 tests when they have no symptoms have been blamed by health secretary Matt Hancock for plunging the system into chaos.
People have been turned away from test centres, told to travel hundreds of miles for a test or been told there are no home testing kits available in recent days.
One Coventry dad was told the nearest testing centre available for his child was in Scotland, a round trip of more than eight hours.
And the issue took centre stage in exchanges at Prime Ministers Questions in the House of Commons today as Labour leader Keir Starmer grilled Prime Minister Boris Johnson on issues around the testing regime.
And while the Prime Minister defended the system, and said those working in test and trace deserved praise, Matt Hancock told Sky News issues had been caused by people ordering tests when they had no symptom of coronavirus reports The Mirror.
Yesterday an NHS testing director apologised and admitted that while test sites had capacity, there was a “pinch point” in labs processing the results.
Yet Mr Hancock – who has admitted it will take “weeks” to solve the problem – chose to point the finger at rising demand from asymptomatic people who, according to current rules, shouldn’t be tested at all.
The Health Secretary insisted the test and trace system was “excellent” and claimed the problems were due to soaring demand from people not eligible for a test.
In most cases people should only get a coronavirus test if they have one of the three symptoms of Covid-19 – a cough, fever or loss of taste or smell.
Mr Hancock told Sky News: “In the last couple of weeks we’ve seen an increase in demand, including an increase in demand from people who are not eligible for tests, people who don’t have symptoms.
“We’ve seen an increase of about 25% of people who are coming forward that don’t have symptoms and aren’t eligible.”
Mr Hancock stressed that anyone with coronavirus symptoms must still get a test.
But he added he’d heard stories of schools sending a whole year group to get a test, thundering: “That is not appropriate”.
And he told BBC Breakfast: “I’ve even heard stories of people saying ‘I’m going on holiday next week, therefore I’m going to go and get a test’.
“No. That is not what the testing system is there for.
“The testing system is there to control this epidemic and we’ve got to be firmer I’m afraid with the rules around eligibility for testing.
“We were able to be quite relaxed about that.”
Speaking to Times Radio, he added: “We’re going to be clearer and stricter about the eligibility requirements for getting a test.”
Mr Hancock did not immediately spell out how.
Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth said: “It beggars belief that after weeks of encouraging people to have a test if feeling unwell, ministers are seeking to blame people for simply doing what they were advised.
“With children returning to school and thousands returning to the office it’s obvious extra testing capacity would be needed.
“The fact ministers failed to plan is yet more staggering incompetence.”
Questioned over whether the system was failing, Mr Hancock told Sky News: “I completely reject the accusation, in fact quite the contrary.”
He said the UK has the biggest system per capita in Europe and the highest testing capacity “we’ve ever had”.
And he claimed 90% of people get a test within 22 miles of where they live.
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