The full scale of the Covid testing crisis in London can be exposed today after an Evening Standard investigation found appointments were not available to book online in any borough.
The Standard tried to arrange walk-in or drive-in slots in each of the 32 boroughs yesterday but every time received the message: “No test sites found.”
The same problem was continuing this morning.
It came as the number of daily cases increased to almost 4,000 across the UK yesterday and Boris Johnson admitted that the testing system “has huge problems” and that “many people are deeply frustrated”.
A new rationing system was due to be announced shortly to place NHS patients, staff, care homes and key workers such as teachers at the front of the queue for tests.
The number of patients with coronavirus being admitted to hospital in London increased to 31, the highest daily number since the start of July.
Postcodes for each borough were entered at least once yesterday by the Standard in an attempt to book a test, but on every occasion nothing was available.
But if a postcode in Scotland was entered into the government website, hundreds of test slots were immediately available, in locations such as Dundee and Aberdeen.
The shortage continued this morning, with new slots in London being snapped up within minutes. By 10am, the nearest testing sites being offered were in Ramsgate, Kent, and Swindon, Wiltshire.
Astonishingly, it was claimed today that Baroness Harding, the head of NHS Test and Trace, told a summit on Friday that a fifth of the lab capacity serving London had been diverted to serve the North-West and other hotspots. Peter John, chairman of London Councils, told Times Radio: “Dido Harding told us that last week and we know that at least 20 per cent of testing capacity has been removed from the city.”
Health chiefs have told the Standard that about 70,000 “pillar 2” community tests — the nasal and throat swabs for members of the public — are done in London each week.
Additional tests are done in NHS hospitals and in care homes under the “pillar 1” testing regime.
The crisis around testing was growing in London as more families told how they were having to self-isolate for days because they were unable to book tests.
Consultant Karen Mugenyi, from East Dulwich, tried for days to book a test for her daughter Siena, six, who developed a temperature at the end of last week.
“My husband set an alarm for midnight because we heard the Government might release more testing slots then but there weren’t any,” she said.
She was eventually offered a test in Epsom earlier this week — a three-hour round trip. Tina Stevens, from Tower Hamlets, tried for two days to get a test on the government website.
Ms Stevens, who works in a school, said: “I am a key worker and was given a code to say this and it made absolutely no difference. I was utterly shocked that this was how it was. I eventually was able to get a test through my son’s school, which is also my employer.”
Infection rates are continuing to rise across the capital. Redbridge remains the worst-hit local authority, recording 38 cases per 100,000 people and 117 new infections in the latest weekly figures.
One of the largest permanent Covid-19 testing centres in London opened in the borough in July. However, dozens of people had to be turned away from the site in Ilford town centre at the weekend because the centre “could not cope”, the council said.
A mobile testing unit that had been due to be sent today and tomorrow to Church Street near Marylebone — an ethnically diverse area that suffered a number of Covid deaths at the peak of the pandemic — was suddenly cancelled at short notice.
The Government has also moved to shut down an alleged “loophole”, where people desperate for a test were obtaining QR codes necessary for having a test by booking appointments in places hundreds of miles from their homes, such as Scotland, then turning up with them at a London testing centre.
The Department for Health and Social Care was today unable to say how many community tests were available in London yesterday. Across England there were 131,781 “pillar 2” tests on Tuesday, the most recent data available — 11,000 fewer than the day before. A spokesman said it was working to overcome the spike in demand for tests, with measures such as increasing lab capacity.