Medics and teachers left unable to get a coronavirus swab

Britain's testing fiasco is hindering the ability of the NHS to resume normal services, hospital leaders warned today.

Doctors and nurses are having to leave the frontline to self-isolate because they or family members cannot book a test. NHS Providers says that if the shortage is not addressed soon it will wreak havoc for hospitals as virus cases continue to escalate.

It came as an investigation by the LBC radio station yesterday found there were no test bookings available at any of the country's ten coronavirus hotspots including Bolton, Salford, Bradford and Manchester. 

But Priti Patel denied that tests were unavailable in the country's worst-hit areas. The Home Secretary told BBC Breakfast today that she has seen with her own eyes that swabs are available in towns hit by local lockdown rules.   

In another humiliating blow to the testing system, head teachers have warned that schools — which were closed for months because of the pandemic — will 'grind to a halt' if teachers can't get tested quickly. 

And care home bosses have criticised ministers for failing to deliver on their promise to prioritise testing in the vulnerable sector ahead of the winter, amid fears it could be ravaged by a second wave of Covid-19.   

The testing shortage — which minister fear will last for weeks — has come days after Downing Street committed to 'Operation Moonshot', an ambitious plan to eventually carry out 10million tests a day to track the virus in real time.

Matt Hancock has repeatedly spoken of 'ramping up' testing capacity and boasted that Britain now does more swab tests than many of its neighbours. But the system seems to be cracking under the pressure of carrying out the approximately 200,000 swabs per day – before 'Moonshot' has even begun. Ministers are now reportedly drawing up plans to restrict tests.

Health chiefs have blamed the problems on a 'critical pinch point' in labs that process the tests due to a sudden spike in demand. This has led to patients being told to travel 500 miles or more across England because there are no tests available nearby. 

Other bosses say a shortage of staff is to blame for the fiasco, which has seen swabs flown to Germany to be analysed. Laboratories are now desperately hunting 400 technicians to fix the problem and have admitted they will accept 'recent graduates'.

Oxford University's Sir John Bell, who has been overseeing Number 10's antibody test programme and advising ministers, believes the fiasco has been caused by a 'second wave' of Covid-19 had led to a surge in demand for tests. 

In other coronavirus developments in Britain today: 

A major report warned Britain is facing a 'looming addiction crisis' with the number of people now classed as drinking at high risk levels having doubled to almost 8.5million since February;  The coronavirus 'Rule of Six' descended into farce as Britons ignored the new restrictions, amid warnings that pubs could face a 9pm curfew if the level of infections keep rising; Fears over a wave of coronavirus redundancies were fueled as figures showed the unemployment rate rose from 3.9 per cent to 4.1 per cent in the quarter to July with nearly 700,000 payroll jobs gone since March.

An investigation by the LBC radio station yesterday found there were no test bookings available at any of the country’s ten coronavirus hotspots including Bolton, Salford, Bradford and Manchester

An investigation by the LBC radio station yesterday found there were no test bookings available at any of the country's ten coronavirus hotspots including Bolton, Salford, Bradford and Manchester

NO TESTS AVAILABLE 'IN 10 OF ENGLAND'S COVID-19 HOTSPOTS' 

No walk-in, drive-in or postal coronavirus tests are available for people with symptoms of the disease in England's 10 outbreak hotspots, it was claimed yesterday.

Swabs are not available in Bolton, which is fighting the largest outbreak of the virus in the country with an infection rate of 122 cases for every 100,000 people.

The Government website where testing slots are booked also shows there are no tests available in Salford, Bradford, Blackburn, Oldham, Preston, Pendle, Rochdale, Tameside and Manchester, according to LBC radio. 

When postcodes in each area are put into the testing system it allegedly comes up with the message: 'This service is currently very busy. More tests should be available later.'

The leader of the council in Bolton, which has Britain's highest infection rate, said there were 'major flaws' with the online booking system and that it was out of the council's control because the Government runs it. He said the issue was 'unacceptable'. 

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Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon piled pressure on the Government yesterday by claiming the backlog was also affecting Scottish patients.

Test results are processed in one of seven Lighthouse Labs across the country in areas including Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire, Loughborough in Leicestershire, Cambridge and Glasgow.

Miss Sturgeon is concerned that the backlog in England is having a knock-on effect in the Glasgow lab, leading to delays in Scotland.

She said yesterday: 'We've been raising these concerns with the UK Government.'

A senior government source last night dismissed her claims as 'wrong', adding: 'It is disappointing the First Minister has decided to play politics with the pandemic.

'We have been working with the Scottish government through the weekend to ensure they have the support on testing they need. The First Minister should get her own house in order before blaming others.'

But in an intervention today, NHS Providers – which represents hospital trusts – warns that the backlog is hitting the health service's ability to get back to normal.

Chief executive Chris Hopson said: 'It's clear there are capacity problems with the testing regime.

'Trust leaders from Bristol, Leeds and London have all raised concerns about the lack of testing availability, leading to greater levels of staff absence.

'NHS trusts are working in the dark – they don't know why these shortages are occurring, how long they are likely to last, how geographically widespread they are likely to be and what priority will be given to healthcare workers and their families in accessing scarce tests.' 

Yesterday it was revealed that swabs are not available in Bolton, which is fighting the largest outbreak of the virus in the country with an infection rate of 122 cases for every 100,000 people.

The Government website where testing slots are booked also shows there are no tests available in Salford, Bradford, Blackburn, Oldham, Preston, Pendle, Rochdale, Tameside and Manchester, according to LBC radio. 

Coronavirus tests are currently unavailable in the ten centres of the UK's coronavirus outbreak, reports LBC. Pictured above is a testing centre in Bolton, northern England

Coronavirus tests are currently unavailable in the ten centres of the UK's coronavirus outbreak, reports LBC. Pictured above is a testing centre in Bolton, northern England

Those trying to get tests in the ten UK hotspots are being greeted with this message

Those trying to get tests in the ten UK hotspots are being greeted with this message

NEARLY 500,000 PATIENTS HAVE BEEN WAITING AT LEAST SIX WEEKS FOR KEY TESTS

Nearly half a million patients have been waiting six weeks or more for key diagnostic tests to detect cancer, heart attacks and other serious conditions.

The figures have increased 12-fold in just a year as hospitals struggle with a post-Covid backlog.

Charities fear the long waits will have a devastating impact on NHS patients, particularly those who have cancer which may become untreatable.

Separate data shows that the number of patients having cancer treatment is down by a quarter on the same time last year. The total has fallen by 6,647 to 21,599.

Yesterday the Mail revealed that hospital admissions had plummeted across seven serious illnesses.

There is a growing backlog of patients who were unable to receive treatment at the height of the pandemic and who are now at risk of serious complications.

This number is continuing to rise because social distancing and infection control measures mean hospitals can deal with only a limited number of patients.

The latest NHS data shows that 489,647 patients had been waiting more than six weeks for one of 15 key diagnostic tests in July, the last month for which there are figures.

A shocking 291,982 of them had been waiting at least 13 weeks.

By comparison, in July 2019, just 40,099 had been waiting six weeks or more and 5,675 for at least 13 weeks.

Michelle Mitchell of Cancer Research UK said: 'Sadly, the Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on cancer services and the lives of cancer patients. There's still a lot of work that needs to be done to ensure that cancer screening, diagnosis and treatment will not be even more impacted by any future waves of Covid-19.'

Alex Norris, a Labour health spokesman, said: 'Patients waiting for these tests cannot afford for the Government to be as slow as they have been in other areas. Some of these tests will be used to diagnose cancer, and for those patients, we know that early diagnosis leads to better treatment and survival.'

An NHS spokesman said: 'Hospitals have been working round the clock throughout the pandemic so that patients can continue to receive vital tests and treatment while staying safe between March and July.'

The backlog is also affecting routine surgery such as hip and knee operations and NHS figures last week showed that 2.1million patients had been waiting at least 18 weeks.

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When postcodes in each area are put into the testing system it allegedly comes up with the message: 'This service is currently very busy. More tests should be available later.'

The leader of the council in Bolton, which has Britain's highest infection rate, said there were 'major flaws' with the online booking system and that it was out of the council's control because the Government runs it. He said the issue was 'unacceptable'. 

Ms Patel said it was 'wrong to say' that there were no tests available after she was quizzed about the long delays in trying to book a test in Bolton where the infection rate is the highest in England.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast this morning, she said: 'Tests are available, you’ve heard me say, particularly in local lockdown areas, I’ve seen this myself, I’ve seen the teams that have been working on this.

'Mobile testing is going in, capacity is going into local areas where lockdowns have been undertaken and are taking place.

'I think it is wrong to say tests are not available, new book-in slots are being made available every single day, mobile testing units are being made available.

'And on top of that home testing kits are being issued across the country but specifically in local lockdown areas.'

But the Home Secretary added: 'Clearly there is much more work that needs to be undertaken with Public Health England and the actual public health bodies in those particular local areas.

'As a Government we work with Public Health England to surge where there is demand in local hotspot areas and we continue to do that.'

On access to testing, she said the majority of tests are available within a 10-mile radius.

'It seems to me there’ll be extreme cases where people can’t get to test locations within that radius but that doesn’t mean that Public Health England are not working night and day to boost capacity,' she added. 

Head teachers have also warned schools will also be hit by staff being unable to get tested quickly.

One primary head in Southampton told The Guardian how three self-isolating staff were unable to get swabs, adding: 'We will grind to a halt if the availability of tests does not improve rapidly.'

Another primary school head in Sussex said test shortages will 'derail the reopening' and ensure instability for both staff and pupils.

Labour MP Stella Creasy yesterday described the situation as an 'absolute farce'. 

She told BBC Radio 4's World At One: 'I've had lots of parents get in touch with me this morning because they've got children with symptoms that are listed… who need to get a test who cannot book one online, who've been trying all over the weekend to book one.

'Our walk-in centre which is on their doorstep yesterday started turning people away if they didn't have an appointment, which would make sense if it was busy but I've been down there myself and there's nothing happening there.

'They don't know how many tests they need to do, they don't know how many scientists they need and they don't know what the demand is.'

Priti Patel denied that tests were unavailable in the country's worst-hit areas.

Oxford University's Sir John Bell, who has been advising ministers, believes the fiasco has been caused by a 'second wave' of Covid-19 had led to a surge in demand for tests

Priti Patel (left) denied that tests were unavailable in the country's worst-hit areas. The Home Secretary told BBC Breakfast today that she has seen with her own eyes that swabs are available in towns hit by local lockdown rules. Oxford University's Sir John Bell (right), who has been overseeing Number 10's antibody test programme and advising ministers, believes the fiasco has been caused by a 'second wave' of Covid-19 had led to a surge in demand for tests

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon piled pressure on the Government by claiming the backlog was also affecting Scottish patients

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon piled pressure on the Government by claiming the backlog was also affecting Scottish patients

PRITI PATEL DENIES THERE ARE A LACK OF TESTS IN BADLY-HIT AREAS

Home Secretary Priti Patel said it was 'wrong to say' that there were no tests available after she was quizzed about the long delays in trying to book a test in Bolton where the infection rate is the highest in England.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, she said: 'Tests are available, you’ve heard me say, particularly in local lockdown areas, I’ve seen this myself, I’ve seen the teams that have been working on

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