Some Britons are being told to travel as far as 500 miles to get a coronavirus swab, as testing centres buckle under the pressure of rising demand.
Families with young children and patients with underlying conditions in England are being offered drive-through tests in Scotland or Wales, they told Sky News.
Parents of youngsters who have just returned to school for the first time in months are having to keep them away again and self-isolate until they get a negative test result.
But despite hours trying to secure a slot on the government website or phone line, it is proving impossible for many.
Sky News spoke to families across the country struggling to get coronavirus tests.
‘I have nurses visiting me day and night, I could be contaminating them’
Jayne is 59 and lives alone in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset.
She is diabetic, suffers from a stomach condition and has had cancer in the past.
Her mobility is limited and she has carers visit twice a day.
She developed a cough and a temperature in the early hours of Tuesday and was offered a coronavirus test in Telford – 97 miles away.
“I’ve spent two whole days trying to get a test, but they keep offering me further and further away,” she told Sky News.
“I’m not going 97 miles there and 97 miles back, it’s such a long way to go, I’m not mobile, I just can’t do it.”
She added: “It’s ridiculous. I feel very let down at the moment. I just want a test.
“I have nurses coming day and night, I could be contaminating them.
“I depend on my daughter for most things, but I don’t want to see her or my grandchildren until I know I’ve not got it.”
‘We’re trying to be good citizens, but the system isn’t allowing us to be’
Barak, 43, from south London, is trying to get a test for his three-year-old daughter after she developed a temperature.
He and his partner are unable to go into work and their other daughter has been forced to stay off school.
They have been offered tests in Aberdeen, Inverness, Dumfries and Cardiff – as far as 500 miles away.
The pastry chef told Sky News: “Our three-year-old woke up with a temperature of 38.3C at 7am.
“We’ve been trying to get a test since then. We keep refreshing the website, but now it’s just saying tests are unavailable. Who knows how long it will take to get one.”
Government guidance states you should get tested within five days of developing symptoms for results to be reliable.
“If we can’t get one within five days, we’ll be stuck at home for 14 days,” Barak said.
“The most disappointing thing is my six-year-old is missing school – she only went back on Friday.
“We’ve been very cooperative since March, we understand the need to self-isolate. We’re trying to be good citizens but the system isn’t allowing us to be.
“Boris Johnson says get a test if you have symptoms – but you can’t.”
‘We had to go private because my mum is vulnerable’
Evelyn Walsh’s six-year-old daughter came down with a temperature and a cough in the early hours of Tuesday.
She lives in north London with her husband, their daughter, their three-year-old son and her 68-year-old mother who has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
The 40-year-old told Sky News: “At first we were told we could get a drive-through test in Essex, but when we tried to confirm it, it just said nothing was available.
“We called 119 and they told us there was nothing available within a 155-mile radius within seven days – even though the government says you have to get tested within five days of getting symptoms.”
Evelyn was so anxious about her mother contracting the virus, she paid £149 for a private test near the family home.
“I’m extremely nervous about her having it. I know children get it a lot less severely, but with my mum, I’m living on my nerves.
“My mum is very anxious too and the kids don’t want to be locked down again.
“We’ve just got over the hurdle of going back to school, and now none of us can leave the house. It’s a shambles.”
‘It makes you understand why some people ignore the guidelines’
Claire Cox lives in Cheltenham with her husband and their two daughters, who are one and six.
When they tried to get a testing slot, they were offered one in Dundee – 385 miles away.
She said: “My one-year-old had her vaccinations on Friday and she has had a temperature since then.
“She probably hasn’t got it, it’s probably just her vaccinations, but there’s nothing we can do.
“I’m not going to drive nearly 400 miles there just to get a test and turn around again.”
Claire managed to secure a home testing kit.
“I ordered a home one, but we’re looking at least a few days,” she added.
“It’s very limiting. It makes it easier to understand why people would ignore the guidelines and just carry on as normal.
“The technology is useless, we’re never going to get it under control if people can’t get tests.
“And this is just the start of it, it’s going to be worse in the winter. It doesn’t fill you with hope.”
‘I drove there and back for nothing’
Paul Bonnett, 43, and his wife live in Chelmsford, Essex, with their two daughters aged 14 and 7, and their son, aged nine.
Their youngest daughter developed a temperature of 38.4C on Wednesday morning, so they secured a drive-through test at Stansted Airport, 25 miles away, for the afternoon.
“We didn’t get a confirmation email, which was a bit strange,” he told Sky News.
“When we got there, they said we should have an email or a QR code.
“I said we didn’t get either and they said there was nothing they could do.
“I drove 25 miles there and back for nothing. It’s frustrating and a waste of our time.
“My main concern is she was at school yesterday and she could have got it from someone else who isn’t showing symptoms and still going to school and infecting people.”
He added: “We’ve got Boris on the TV telling us there’s a great system in place, but they can’t cope.
“It feels like we’re in lockdown again, but possibly for no reason.”
Why are testing centres struggling under the strain?
People with no coronavirus symptoms getting tests are to blame for the system reaching its limit, the health secretary has suggested.
Matt Hancock told Sky News the reason many people have reported being unable to book a test is because the proportion of those asking for them who have no symptoms has risen to 25%.
Sky News has contacted the Department for Health and Social Care for comment.
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