‘Getting a Covid test booked is becoming like the lottery; some are lucky to get tested while others have to try and try again to book one’- that's the view of some members of the public in Peterborough who are struggling to get a slot, including key workers.
The mobile testing centres are now operating at a pre-booked basis due to a rising demand, having changed from a walk-in system.
However, residents have various concerns ranging from lack of available slots to ‘large crowds’ outside the facilities. Peterborough Matters has heard at least one report of people fighting in the queues when people started arguing about symptoms.
In addition, residents have said they are having to wait long hours on the 119 booking line to book a test while others said they haven’t been able to get a test at all. There seems to also be a shortage of home tests, forcing people to rely on these testing facilities.
Nationally, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that he understood it would be "naturally worrying" for people with symptoms who could not secure a test in a "timely way", but that the testing system was under "pressure" because of the spike in the infection rate of the virus.
This week, three community centres in Peterborough were operating with booked slots, which are the Dogsthorpe Community Centre, Gladstone Park Community Centre and the Pyramid Centre in Bretton.
The East of England Arena is still operating a drive-thru testing facility, but appointments for that centre must be booked through the government website.
Despite four facilities operating in Peterborough, residents have complained the nearest location they are being given for a test centre appears to be in Birmingham. At the same time, some residents waiting in queues at their local testing facility informed Peterborough Matters they had travelled from St.Ives and Chatteris.
People have been sharing their experiences on social media about the lack of testing slots available.
A reader reached out to us on Twitter who said he has tried the government website, the booking line and the walk-in facilities- but none seem to have an available test to offer.
Twitter user Mark added: “Earlier, 119 told me they use the same site to book a COVID test as we do, so the advice, if you can’t book online try 119 is a bit of a red herring. They also advised me to keep refreshing throughout the day, five hours later and it’s consistently said no test sites available.”
Jan Murthwaite said: “I was going for a test regularly because of my job no problems to start with, now it's very difficult to get a test anywhere in Peterborough.”
One father who is a key worker really struggled to book a test for his child with coronavirus symptoms, while another person said her family member who is also a key worker is being sent to Birmingham to get a test after trying all avenues to book one here in Peterborough for hours.
Sharing her experience, Abbey Gordon said: “Ridiculous. I was online refreshing for 24 hours then only one was available and the closest was Scotland for this week”, while Wayne Johnson said he had tried for two days for a test for his son.
Nazreen Bibi who works in the Autistic Care sector said for people with autism and learning disabilities the process has been ‘horrendous’, adding: “Children and adults attending nurseries and day services are sent home because they have “coughed”, there appears to be no ongoing observations as the symptoms of Covid is a persistent cough and a high temperature.
“For people with autism a change in routine or waiting can be extremely challenging. There are delays in terms of booking Covid test slots.”
Residents in Bretton living around the Watergall school said they appreciate a centre has been set up for the residents who aren’t very mobile, but described it as a nightmare.
They said that some accessing the centre have been parking ‘inconsiderately’ around properties, blocking garages and footpaths. One resident said: They don’t care’. Parents and children walking to the school have to pass these long queues of people waiting to be tested, potentially with the virus symptoms.
Local Bretton resident and delivery van-driver Paul Gatward spoke to Peterborough Matters and said: “I witnessed these scenes around 11:45 on Thursday when I was delivering something to the school. Firstly it took me ages to get to the school on that road. People have parked everywhere.
“The queue was awful. The worst part is the facility has been set up in the car park just before the school. I am not saying these people queuing is infected or anything but they potentially could have symptoms.
"The school has invested a lot of time and thought to keep everyone safe and have put in a one- way system. This means the parents and children are now having to walk pass these queues which pose as a huge risk.
"The site should be wrapped up before the school ends. However, I was told by residents, people were queueing even after it was done. I had to ask people to move because they were blocking the way, and that puts me into danger.
“Residents also said people were coming in taxis to get tested. They had a lot of complaints.
“I think it’s a great initiative but not the best location for it. There’s a bigger car park just around the corner- probably two-minute walk from existing one, where the facility can be set up. It offers more space for social distancing and doesn’t put other members of public like the school traffic at risk.
“I have actually contacted the Cambridgeshire health authorities to raise these concerns and they said someone will be out next week to have a look.”
Similar issues were reported from Gladstone Park Community Centre on Saturday, including a fight that broke out between people waiting to be tested. Issues of parking and congestion were also reported from the area.
Although a lot of people are having a bad experience, some people said it has been quite straightforward for them.
Previously, people have been all praise for the testing facility set up at the East of England Arena.
Gail Demaine said: “I had to do one in July and Peterborough was spot on. My son had to have one Friday, nearest test centre was Norwich, but it wouldn’t let us go through the final stages of booking so his dad took him to the pop up test centre in Breton. All really quite straightforward”
Cydney Beagley said: “I got a drive through test same day and had my results by the morning. Very simple process for me.”
The government has urged members of public to only get a test if you have coronavirus symptoms or have been asked to get tested, and not to use this service to get a test in order to travel to another country. They have asked them to instead go for a private test. This will help make sure people who need a test can get one.
More information on the different ways of getting tested and how to access them can be found here
After receiving complaints, Peterborough City Council has issued a statement to inform members of public, they are not responsible for the running of these testing sites and it has been organised by the central government.
Their role is only to make residents aware that these facilities are available for them in case need arises and encourage them to get tested.
A Peterborough City Council spokeswoman said: “The National Testing Programme is currently experiencing exceptionally high demand and as a result we know that some people may be struggling to access the time and location that they want.
"If you’ve tried to book a test for coronavirus and you’ve not been able to, or you’ve been offered a location or time that’s not convenient, our advice is to wait a few hours and try again. Booking slots are made available the evening before for morning appointments, and on the morning for afternoon appointments. Alternatively, people can call 119.
"If you have symptoms of coronavirus, please don’t give up when trying to book a test - keep trying and continue to self-isolate for the full 14 days if you are unable to get a test.
"If you don't have symptoms of coronavirus - a fever, new continuous cough or a loss or change in your sense of taste or smell - and have no cause to suspect you have been in a situation that has increase your risk of infection, please don't book a test. By doing so, you might be denying someone who genuinely needs it."