BMA vice chair Dr David Wrigley said on Twitter that the NHS test and trace system 'is not working' - warning that a colleague based in south-west England who needed a test had been told to drive to Cardiff.
Dr Wrigley's comment came as reports emerged on 7 September of people seeking to book a test online receiving a message saying 'this service is currently unavailable' - while a message on the test-booking webpage on 8 September said: 'This service is currently very busy. If you cannot get a test now, or the location or time are not convenient, try again in a few hours.'
NHS Test and Trace director Sarah-Jane Marsh apologised on Twitter for problems with the testing system, writing: 'Can I please offer my heartfelt apologies to anyone who cannot get a COVID test at present. All of our testing sites have capacity, which is why they don’t look overcrowded, its our laboratory processing that is the critical pinch-point. We are doing all we can to expand quickly.'
COVID-19 testing capacity
Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock, however, told MPs on 8 September the problem could take 'weeks' to solve - as a senior scientist from the government's SAGE advisory committee told ITV that cases of COVID-19 are increasing 'exponentially' - warning that the pandemic 'is taking off again'.
Official figures for daily positive COVID-19 tests show that close to 3,000 positive tests were reported by labs across the UK on both 6 and 7 September - the highest daily totals reported since May.
RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall said this week that for general practice to give patients the care they need, 'it is essential that GPs have rapid access to testing results for patients – and that as newer, quicker tests for COVID-19 are available, GPs and our teams have access to them when necessary and appropriate'.
COVID-19 second wave
But GPs fear problems with the testing system will leave the UK exposed at a time when cases are rising, with social interactions increasing after the pupils returned to school and with students set to return to universities in the coming weeks.
Watford GP Dr Simon Hodes - who has previously argued that general practice should be enabled to test patients directly and play a greater role in test and trace - told GPonline: 'According to all the experts, the safe release of lockdown depends on a robust, effective testing programme.
'The experts say we need to have easy access, local testing knowledge, so you can see who is infected, in what setting and ideally trace the source of any outbreaks - as we have seen in some schools and factories already.'
He warned that GPs were largely unable to swab patients themselves apart from in a handful of 'hot hub' facilities - meaning that if they suspect COVID-19 they had to direct patients to book a test online or by calling 119.
Dr Hodes added: 'This means they might be travelling elsewhere spreading potential COVID-19, that you have the private test and trace system working outside the NHS, and that patients then have to self-swab.'
He said asking patients to swab themselves could lead to more false negative tests because the process is 'difficult and uncomfortable' - while other patients may not follow the advice to go for a test, meaning they did not appear in the statistics, and no contact tracing could happen.
Asked how soon problems with the testing system could be solved, Mr Hancock told the health and social care committee: 'In the coming weeks. We are working on it incredibly hard.'