The mapping system used by coronavirus test and trace system is sending people on near 500-mile journeys – because it measures the nearest centre ‘as the crow flies’.
Locator software is picking geographically close testing centres without realising visitors would need to ‘walk on water’ to get there in a short amount of time or distance.
It means families in Ilfracombe, Devon, have been told to drive to Swansea in Wales, which is 30 miles as the crow flies, but 350 miles and seven hours by road.
The case is the same in Weston-super-Mare and Felixstowe who have been told to places up to 54 miles away, that look just over ten miles away on a map.
Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said: ‘It’s as if the system thinks people can walk on water to get to their nearest testing centre.
The system measures ‘as the crow flies’ instead of the real distance by road
‘It clearly has no appreciation of local circumstances,’ he told the Telegraph.
Yesterday test and trace boss Dido Harding installed a 75-mile limit on travelling to appointments after it was revealed some patients were being asked to drive almost 300 miles.
It came as the number of close contacts of people who tested positive for Covid-19 being reached through Test and Trace is at its lowest since the system was launched, figures show.
The latest data also indicates that a total of 6,732 new people tested positive for Covid-19 in England in the week to August 26, an increase of 6% in positive cases on the previous week and the highest weekly number since the week to June 3.
The figures come as the system faces criticism for a flaw in its online booking system which tries to direct people to test centres more than 100 miles away.
Patients trying to book coronavirus tests in Kent are being told to travel nearly 500 miles to Edinburgh despite their local sites sitting almost empty.
One dad, whose two-year-old daughter had symptoms, tried to book a test at Manston Airport in Thanet, Kent, but was told he had to go to Harwich in Essex, a journey of 130 miles.
When he turned up at the near-empty Manston site he was told some people had arrived after being told to go to Edinburgh, 470 miles away.
Others have been sent from Kent to Manchester, some 300 miles away.
Londoners have also seen similar problems, with many being told to go 200 miles to Bradford or Manchester, despite the Heathrow and Twickenham test sites barely being used.
Manston Airport COVID test centre, in Kent, without many vehicles in the queue while patients are being told to travel nearly 500 miles from the south of England to Edinburgh, Scotland
Anthony Hall, from Broadstairs, Kent, said he tried to book a slot online to have a swab test at Manston for his two-year-old daughter after she started showing symptoms of the virus.
But he was only given the option of Harwich Port and he was told others in the area had been sent to Edinburgh.
He said: ‘The only option I was given was Harwich Port in Essex.
‘In the end I drove to Manston, which was empty except for one other car, and one of the guys working there said they’d had people coming in who had been told to go to Edinburgh.
‘Because my daughter was showing symptoms they allowed us to be tested, but I’ve heard from others that this isn’t always the case.’
Teresa Drury, also from Broadstairs, was told to travel the 300 miles to Manchester Airport when she tried to book and not even given the option of using Manston, just a 10 minute drive from her home.
She said: ‘We tried three days on the trot. I’d put in my postcode but got offered Manchester, Folkestone and Ashford – Manston didn’t even come up as an option when we tried.
Teresa Drury, from Broadstairs, was told to travel 300 miles to Manchester Airport when she tried to book and was not given option to use Manston – a 10 minute drive away from her home
‘Whenever I drove past the site it was always empty yet we were told we couldn’t get tested there without an appointment. It was really frustrating.
‘The test was for a family member who, it turns out, had a cold, but she works in retail so had to get tested and she couldn’t work until she had.
‘The government says it is trying to get the country back on its feet and the economy moving so it’s bizarre that this is happening. You can’t help but feel suspicious.
‘Why isn’t something being done to resolve it or even the government admitting there are problems?
‘Manston has capacity for 1,200 people a day, yet it’s empty. Why don’t they run a turn-up system there, where you can just drive up and get tested without an appointment?
‘I went there three times, and three times it was empty.’
Mrs Drury says when she rang the 119 registration phone line she was firstly told there was an admin error in the booking system and then that Manston was fully booked, despite her driving past and seeing no cars in the testing bays.
She added: ‘I went past on three occasions, at different times of the day, and each time the site was empty with the people who worked there just standing around.’
She is not the only one to have experienced problems with booking.
Other residents have seen issues at the testing centre in nearby Ebbsfleet, Kent, where people needing a test are being directed miles from their home.
Many have reportedly been offered appointments in Wales and the Midlands, while others claim the Ebbsfleet test site has been ’empty’ in recent weeks.
Pictured: The test and trace centre in Twickenham which was reportedly fully booked while Londoners were told to travel to Bradford or Manchester in order to receive their test
The test and trace swabbing centre at Heathrow
Justin Madders, shadow health minister, described the latest figures as ‘hugely disappointing’ and said there was ‘clearly a problem with testing infrastructure’.
New figures from the Department of Health and Social Care show that 69.4% of close contacts of people who tested positive for Covid-19 in England were reached through the Test and Trace system in the week ending August 26.
This is down from 77.1% in the previous week, and the lowest weekly percentage since Test and Trace was launched in May and is marks the tenth week in a row that the 80% target has not been reached.
For cases handled by local health protection teams, 97.3% of contacts were reached and asked to self-isolate in the week to August 26.
By contrast, for those cases handled either online or by call centres, 59.8% of close contacts have been reached and asked to self-isolate.
Since the launch of Test and Trace, 270,559 close contacts of people who have tested positive for Covid-19 have now been reached through the tracing system and asked to self-isolate.
Mr Madders added: ‘With cases on the increase and the Government pushing for everyone to return to work, it is more important than ever that test and trace is working to its potential.
‘It is therefore hugely disappointing to see that the number of people the system reached went down again in the last week.
‘There is also clearly a problem with testing infrastructure as people across the country are sent hundreds of miles for testing appointments.’
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) insists there has been no reduction in national testing capacity.
A spokesman said: ‘NHS Test and Trace is working – we are working to increase national testing capacity and hundreds of thousands of people are being tested every day.
‘There is a high demand for tests and our laboratories continue to turn test results around as quickly as possible.
‘To make sure we stay in control of this virus we are targeting our testing capacity at the areas that need it most, including those where there is an outbreak, as well as prioritising at-risk groups.
‘We are expanding testing capacity to 500,000 tests a day by the end of October – as well as bringing in new technology to process tests even faster.’