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UPDATE 1-UK's creaking COVID-19 test system puts health services at risk

Tue, 15th Sep 2020 14:25

(Adds details)

By Andrew MacAskill and Guy Faulconbridge

LONDON, Sept 15 (Reuters) - Britain's testing system for
COVID-19 was creaking on Tuesday as a bottleneck prevented
people including medics from getting a test in a potential
threat to key health services, with the government saying it may
take weeks to resolve the problem.

In an attempt to slow one of the highest coronavirus death
tolls in the West, Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised in May
to create a "world beating" system to test and trace people
exposed to the virus.

Phil Sands, a medical engineer, who builds and repairs
medical equipment at University College Hospital in London, said
he has been off work for the last two days after one of his
daughters developed a cold over the weekend.

Sands said he has tried more than 50 times to log on to the
government's website to book a test, but each time it either
said there are none available or the system crashes.

"It is frustrating that I can’t work, I have no symptoms,
there is nothing with me, but following the guidelines I have to
stay home until I can prove that I don't have COVID-19 or the
(quarantine) time has passed," he told Reuters.

Attempts by Reuters reporters to get a COVID-19 test on
Tuesday were greeted with a notice on the government's website
saying: "This service is currently very busy. More tests should
be available later."

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, which
represents hospital trusts in England, said a growing number
staff were unable to come to work because they or someone they
live with had COVID-like symptoms but couldn't get tested.

He said hospital bosses were working in the dark as they did
not know why there were shortages, how long they were likely to
last, how geographically widespread they were nor what priority
would be given to healthcare workers.

Britain advises those showing symptoms to get a test though
it says the system has been burdened by people with no symptoms
asking for tests. Some schools have demanded any ill students
get a test or stay away for 14 days.

Britain's health minister said that the government was
working around the clock to fix what he said were "operational
challenges" in the testing system caused by a surge in demand
and it may take weeks to resolve the shortages.

"There are operational challenges and we're working hard to
fix them," Matt Hancock told parliament. "As we expand capacity
further we are working round the clock to ensure everyone who
needs a test can get a test."

Hancock said there had been a sharp rise in people coming
forward for tests, including those who were not eligible.

Lawmakers from across the house complained that voters had
raised repeated problems with the testing system – including for
children whose schools had demanded they have a test if they
showed cold symptoms.
(Reporting by Andrew MacAskill and Guy Faulconbridge; Editing
by David Clarke, William Maclean)

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