FURNESS residents have been unable to access Covid-19 tests within the south of the county, according to community leaders in the area.

The Mail has learnt of a number of reports that residents had been forced to travel to north Cumbria or even Lancashire for checks this week, with political representatives saying the lack of available testing in the area is 'simply not good enough'.

The comments come after it was revealed the national contact tracing scheme was missing a quarter of potentially-exposed people in Cumbria.

South Lakes MP Tim Farron believes much of the stretched national testing resources have been diverted to hard-hit areas of Greater Manchester, and argues the demand for tests will rise dramatically as pupils and teachers return to schools this month.

He said: "'National testing capacity isn't there, and so they're robbing Peter to pay Paul - and we're Peter".

But Cumbria's public health director says prioritisation of testing for Cumbria has now been secured.

Cllr Iain Mooney confirmed yesterday that measures had been put in place to ensure schools - and, in particular, families struggling to access testing - could get tested at Furness General Hospital.

Colin Cox said on Friday: "There have been challenges in the last week or so accessing tests in Cumbria - on the national scale, the ability to do tests has not kept up with the demands.

"Nationally, they are prioritising places with low incidence rates. Cumbria has low infection rates currently.

"So that has been causing some significant problems. This had been coming for fortnight or so, but it has been particularly bad over this past week.

"We've been working with the Department of Health to try and rectify this. I'm glad to say they've recognised the unique challenges presented by the sheer size of the county, along with other factors. So, as of today, I believe, Cumbrian mobile testing units will be on the list of ones that are to be prioritised by the Government.

However, concerns still remain over access to testing in the area, after a week of reported shortages across the county.

Cllr Anne Burns, Barrow representative at the county council, reports residents unable to access a test in the town having contacted her.

She said: "We are calling on the Government to end its love affair with the private sector and to involve public health teams - and local authorities - in a much greater way. We need all hands at the pump during times of national crisis.

"I'm calling on Simon Fell to raise this with the Government - we need rapid and locally-available testing.

"Schools have been given a limited number of emergency testing kits - but they've been told only to use them in exceptional circumstances. And they'll get used up very quickly."

Cllr Burns added: "I've been told that one family in Whitehaven has had to go to Carlisle for a test this week. So it's clearly something that's happening across the county.

"It has been raised with me that there are children in Barrow who have been sent home from school, suspecting there might be an infection and that they can't access a test within Furness."

Her comments were echoed by Cllr Mooney, who said: "Yesterday it was made apparent that school children in Barrow and Furness becoming unwell with suspected COVID-19 would have to travel to Whitehaven for testing.

"An almost two-hour journey on already problematic roads. Not only is this unacceptable for that reason alone, but it also excludes those unable to travel that far and potentially spreads infection."

Mr Farron also said: “We all know that testing is key to dealing with this crisis.

“So reports of testing facilities struggling to cope, long delays in people getting their results back and people in the South Lakes being sent to test centres as far away as Preston are extremely concerning.

“It’s even more alarming that this is happening just as schools are reopening and students are returning to university campuses, with infections likely to rise as a result.

“The Government seriously needs to get a grip on this right now.”