Grandma offered coronavirus test 155 miles away across Irish Sea

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A woman whose mother was offered a coronavirus test 155 miles away fears people who aren't tech savvy could miss out on a potentially life-saving diagnosis.

Carrie Foster, 40, from Widnes, tried twice on Saturday to book a slot in Haydock seven miles away for her mother, but said a technical glitch with the Department for Health and Social Care online booking system meant the slot was not confirmed until Sunday night.

In the meantime, she tried again to find an available slot and was offered a test in Belfast 154.8 miles away, followed by a slot offered in Workington 91 miles away in Cumbria.

She says she spotted further potential for confusion with separate government websites offering tests only to over-18s, and another only to the over-fives.
This was particularly frustrating as Carrie has two children aged 12 and three, and lives with her parents in their 70s.

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Her experience sparked concerns that a lack of coronavirus testing capacity was putting people at risk of having to embark on long journeys to be tested for the disease, in conflict with lockdown travel guidance and raising the chance of extra pressure on the NHS from due to accidents on the road.

After finally receiving confirmation on Sunday night for the following day in Haydock, Carrie was relieved to find the test was "very simple and straightforward" and the testing centre staff were "very pleasant and gave good directions".

A drive-through coronavirus testing site in Belfast.

Carrie’s mother Christine is in her 70s and was developing potential coronavirus symptoms.

Carrie, who works for O2 and is a key worker, said: “It was an absolute nightmare process.
“As far as I’m aware you can only do it through the .gov website.
“When you go through all the rigmarole of do I qualify for a test, they send you a link in a text message.

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“That’s seeing what your details are, you enter the personal details of the person to be tested then you add household members to be tested.”

Carrie faced more confusion when, after receiving no confirmation of an appointment, she tried the government website again.

This time, she claims she was faced with a different set of questions including a request for NHS numbers and conflicting information about how old you had to be to get a test.

A screengrab of the forms offering appointments in Belfast and Workington.

She said: “I’m tech-savvy, I deal with computers all day long.

“My parents would have given up."

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When she went back on the website on Sunday to try to book an appointment after not receiving confirmation of the Haydock test, she was stunned by the suggestion.

Carrie said: “When I went back on the following day and re-entered the details, my closest test centre was Belfast 158 miles away and over a body of water.

“If they hadn’t sent me a confirmation (for Belfast) before I got a confirmation (for Haydock), I could have been on my way to Belfast and getting on a ferry.”

The ECHO contacted the Department of Health and Social Care by email on May 4, and tried to call on May 6 but there was no answer.

According to the government website, anyone who cannot access the internet to book a test should call NHS 111.

You can find out more about who is eligible to be tested here and more guidance about the different ways of getting tested here.

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