Testing times as back-to-school bugs put pressure on Covid units

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A mum of four from Oban is demanding answers from elected government officials after spending almost six hours trying to organise Covid-19 testing for herself and her family after her 10-year-old daughter developed symptoms.

Aisling Clark, a teacher at Oban High School has written a strongly worded letter to Argyll and Bute representatives Michael Russel MSP and Brendan O’Hara after finding herself in a situation that, in her words, ‘beggars belief’.

She told The Oban Times this week: ‘What I have discovered is that there is a significant problem across the NHS Highland area and that we seem to be being subjected to a rural postcode lottery for testing,’ she added.

Having woken up on Saturday morning with a ‘nasty cough’, Aisling’s daughter further developed a temperature of 38.1C the following day. Although the responsible mum was fairly sure her child had picked up a cold while attending school the previous week, she promptly attempted to follow the guidelines and book a test for her daughter and the rest of the family.

‘As a key worker it was my understanding that myself and my family were entitled to testing. However, this has proven to be one of the most difficult things I have ever tried to access,’ she said.

After going through the government’s Covid testing page, Aisling was offered an appointment in Portree, 151 miles from her house (the maximum mileage recommended by the Scottish Government being 90). She then phoned her GP surgery and was directed to another page which then took her back to the government site.

‘I phoned the helpline twice to be told they actually can’t help in any way,’ she added. ‘I then tried to book postal tests only to be told there was none available.’

Taking advice from a colleague, Aisling then got in touch with NHS 24 and after queuing for over an hour and a quarter managed to book a test for her daughter only at Oban Lorn and Isles hospital.

‘Current advice is that the whole family of the key worker should be tested. I would like someone to explain to me how after eight months since Covid-19 appeared that we cannot be tested nearer our homes,’ she said.

Aisling’s experience last weekend has been reflected nationwide as children return to school and come into contact with other cold and flu-like viruses. Something she feels the government should have been better prepared for.

‘As a teacher, it is clear to me that the likelihood of a school closing in Argyll and Bute will not be because of a Covid outbreak but because staff will have to self isolate and cannot access testing,’ she added.

Among many other concerns being raised by members of the community are how children access toilet facilities when being asked to travel for testing and how do people who don’t drive or can’t afford the petrol manage?

‘This system is clearly not fit for purpose and is, in fact, ensuring that rural areas are again being discriminated against,’ concluded Aisling.

In response to the latest concerns Argyll and Bute MP Brendan O’Hara said: ‘It appears that there were ‘technical glitches’ in the UK-wide booking system last weekend, almost certainly brought about by a spike in demand due to the return of schools.

‘The exceptional demand for testing resulted in people being offered appointments many miles from their home. I understand that Oban is not alone to what the First Minister described as ‘possible technical issues’ and I’m pleased to hear that the Scottish Government is working to ensure that these issues are resolved as quickly as possible.

‘Of course we’d all rather that the system was sufficiently robust to cope with whatever demands were placed on it, but I suppose if weakness are there, it is better they are discovered and repaired now rather than at the height of winter when cases could be on the rise and travel far more difficult.’