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Anger at 'postcode lottery' for virus test

By Caroline McMorran

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A Sutherland hospitality worker who feared she had contracted coronavirus, has spoken out after being unable to order access a home testing kit on a UK Government site because of where she lives.

Shelley Landles, of Golspie, fell victim to a postcode lottery whereby tests cannot be delivered to people with addresses in large swathes of the Highlands including Sutherland.

Coronavirus home testing kit.
Coronavirus home testing kit.

The problem has been put down to a ‘configuration of the national testing system’.

Ms Landles said she was worried the situation was putting vulnerable people living in the county at risk.

“If there was to be a Covid outbreak in my area, then there is a real risk track and trace would fail to detect this in a timely manner. The lives of our vulnerable residents are being put at risk unnecessarily,” she said.

The 23-year-old began to suffer a continuous cough, sore throat and runny nose on September 23 and went into isolation the following day.

She tried unsuccessfully to book a home testing kit from the gov.uk site.

“After going through the process, various messages were displayed saying there were no kits available for my address and area and alternatively, to try again in a few hours,” she said.

“It wasn’t made clear that specific postcodes were not yet eligible for home tests.”

She was so concerned that she contacted local MP Jamie Stone and Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant.

Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant. Picture: Alan Hendry
Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant. Picture: Alan Hendry

Ms Landles, who has now recovered, said: “I was able to return to work after 10 days. I don’t think Covid-19 was the cause of my illness, however I don’t know for certain as I could not get a test.”

Following Ms Landles’ approach and that of another constituent, Mrs Grant asked the Scottish Parliament’s Information Centre to list the areas where tests could not be delivered.

It emerged that tests could not be delivered to postcodes in Western Isles, Orkney, Shetland, Argyll and Bute, Caithness, Sutherland, Ross and Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch.

Mrs Grant told the Northern Times “It was Shelley’s case that initially sparked the research to find out where out where the Covid-19 home testing kits weren’t reaching.

“She was only about 50 miles from Inverness, so I couldn’t see why there would be a problem, but the health authority, and the Scottish Government’s postcode list, highlighted that there was no postal delivery and pick up there.

“Her case highlights that there needs to be a better system for those in Sutherland, and other rural areas, who haven’t got transport to get to a mobile or established testing centre or who may be looking after a vulnerable person. Testing should be available no matter where you live in the country and it’s disgraceful that it isn’t."

Mrs Grant NHS Shetland which has set up its own system to overcome the problem and said she had asked Scottish Health Secretary, Jeane Freeman, if Shetland’s bespoke home testing system could provide a basis for other areas where the kits weren’t available.

MP Jamie Stone said it was “utterly unacceptable” that people in the Far North should be disadvantaged during the pandemic.

He said: “The fact is that we have a National Health Service which means that the health, care, and protection is for every single UK citizen, regardless of where they live.

“Although health is devolved to the Scottish parliament, I shall nevertheless take this issue up in the House of Commons at the earliest opportunity.”

Earlier this week, Mr Stone raised a question in the Commons about a vaccine roll out in rural constituencies. He said he wanted to ensure the Government strategy was to prioritise those in most need.

NHS Highland’s new Chief Executive, Pam Dudek said: “Access to postal Covid testing as part of the UK Testing Service is still not possible in many parts of NHS Highland.

“This relates to the configuration of the UK postal testing system and is not connected to the way local laboratory tests are carried out.

“We are continuing to look for ways to expand testing and to facilitate home testing in areas without access to the postal service, but I am sorry that this is not yet in place and recognise the frustration that it causes.”

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