Anger as suspected NI Covid-19 carriers directed to Scotland and Isle of Man for tests – Belfast Newsletter

The screen which greeted many NI people on TuesdayThe screen which greeted many NI people on Tuesday
The screen which greeted many NI people on Tuesday

Edwin Poots was speaking after widespread reports surfaced of people in Northern Ireland being directed to go to Scotland for Covid-19 tests.

Others were denied a test altogether, with the computerised booking service telling them that no slots are free.

The unfolding fiasco comes amid a recent increase in NI deaths being linked to Covid.

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The Department of Health locally has said that it is a problem rooted in the testing system based in Great Britain.

Health minister Robin Swann stressed that no-one in NI is actually expected to go to Scotland for testing.

One News Letter employee based in Lisburn got the following message when they tried to get a drive-though test: “You or someone you live with must drive to the test site by car or small van… Your nearest drive-though test site is Stranraer Ashwood House Mobile Unit (48 miles away).”

Mr Poots, who currently holds the farming and environment brief in the Executive, said a solution must come “rapidly”, adding: “The fight against Covid is challenging enough without having probliems like this.

“Ultimately the people who provide the service are failing the health service, and they need to get their act together.”

This reporter had previously undergone a drive-through test in Co Antrim a fortnight ago, when slots had been freely available.

But when trying to book a new test on Tuesday night, the system responded with this message: “This service is currently very busy. More tests should be available later. If you cannot book a test now, or the location or time are not convenient, try again in a few hours.

“Warning: Do not call the helplines – you will not be able to get a test this way.”

A number of MLAs have got in contact with the News Letter to let them know that constituents were seeing problems with the test booking system.

SDLP MLA Colin McGrath (South Down) said that some constituents reported being offered tests in the Isle of Man.

He said: “I have had a number of constituents contact me to say that when their child is displaying any form of sickness, including some that have symptoms not connected to coronavirus, they are being told by schools they must seek a test and prove the negative outcome before their child can return to school.

“In some instances family members are being encouraged to seek tests too. This is putting an additional strain on the testing system and I’m concerned at reports from constituents that they’ve been directed to Stranraer and the Isle of Man for tests.”

And Claire Sugden, independent unionist MLA (East Londonderry), said: “I have spoken to people who have had to wait on the phone lines all day before finally getting an appointment.

“If, as has been suggested, the Minister for Health is expecting us to see increased cases over the winter, then what are his plans for greater testing?”

She pointed to the fact there are “only four full testing sites sites” in Northern Ireland: the SSE / Odyssey, Belfast; the LYCRA Company Car park, Londonderry; Craigavon MOT centre; and St Angelo Airport, Enniskillen.

There are also temporary mobile sites in Lisburn, Ballymena, Carryduff, Newry, Antrim, and Newtownards.

When it comes to the fact NI people are being referred to Scotland for tests, health minister Robin Swann said: “To be clear, no one in Northern Ireland is expected to travel outside the jurisdiction for a test.

“These slots have been offered by the online system because it has not on occasions recognised local requirements. The same problem has been reported in Scotland. I want to see this glitch resolved as a priority.”

According to Department of Health NI figures, there had been six Covid deaths in the week to Monday.

In the week prior to that, there had been just two deaths.

Public health advice:

The Public Health Agency (PHA) is reminding people of the importance of booking a COVID-19 test if they develop any of the symptoms of the illness, but it also emphasised that those who are not displaying any of these symptoms “should avoid booking a test, as they could be taking the place of someone who needs one”.

The symptoms of COVID-19 are:

~ A high temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature);

~ A new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual);

~ A loss of or change in sense of smell or taste.

The PHA said: “You should get tested in the first three days of coronavirus symptoms appearing, although testing is considered effective up until day five.

“Booking a test is straightforward – just visit, complete the online form, and you’ll be offered a test at your nearest fixed or mobile testing unit.

“If you have questions about a test you’ve booked or are having trouble booking a test, you can call 119.

“Booking can be made for morning test slots from 6pm the previous day

“Afternoon booking slots are released at 10am on the day of testing.”

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