Exclusive: Travellers left in lurch as Government-approved Covid testing lab 'overwhelmed'

Robert Mendick
·5-min read
A Covid-19 Home Testing kit -  Steve Parsons/PA
A Covid-19 Home Testing kit - Steve Parsons/PA
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter

A Government-approved Covid testing laboratory has left hundreds of travellers in the lurch after becoming "overwhelmed" with orders.

The company, 001Doctor.uk, was at the top of a government list of firms offering compulsory home testing kits for all international arrivals into the UK.

Its tests – costing £170 – were also the cheapest, prompting a flood of purchases it has been unable to fulfil. Many of the kits have failed to be delivered, according to dozens of complaints on the customer review website Trustpilot, leaving customers stuck in isolation complaining of feeling "confused" and "distressed".

People who have spent 10 days in quarantine are still not allowed to leave their accommodation until they have taken tests and had them returned negative.

Under Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) rules, all international arrivals must quarantine for 10 days unless they have a job that exempts them. They are also required to take a Covid test on or before day two for the surveillance of variants of the virus, and another on or after day eight before isolation can end.

But 001Doctor.uk has stopped taking bookings for the day two and day eight tests and has now been removed from the Government's list. In a statement on Trustpilot, the firm said it was not "scamming anyone" after a series of angry comments were published, but admitted that "we did not envisage so many people travelling".

001Doctor.uk, set up in November, said it had received 92,000 calls to its helpline in 10 days when it normally receives 200.

"We have experienced an unprecedented volume of orders that we just did not anticipate," it said. "Whilst we are all working around the clock to resolve this, we have been simply overwhelmed with call volumes.

"We are certainly not 'scamming' anyone and are committed to resolving any complaints including refunds and free tests in cases where we are at fault, which is why we have created a dedicated email address so that we can resolve any outstanding issues."

'We haven't heard anything since paying for the tests'

One couple told The Telegraph they had paid £800 for the 001Doctor service but were yet to receive the kits that should have been sent to their isolation address.

Tom and Dianne Attwood returned to the UK from France, where they had been living, on March 31. They had selected 001Doctor from the DHSC list because it was cheapest – a decision they now regret.

International passengers cannot fill in their required passenger locator form until tests have been booked and paid for prior to travel.

The Attwoods paid £170 each for the PCR tests, with a further £12 each for delivery and an additional £200 each for a day five test that would have allowed them to leave quarantine earlier than the mandatory 10 days.

The Attwoods have repeatedly tried to contact 001Doctor but have so far had no response - John Robertson/The Telegraph
The Attwoods have repeatedly tried to contact 001Doctor but have so far had no response - John Robertson/The Telegraph

Mrs Attwood, 49, said: "We are really angry. We haven't heard anything since paying for the tests. We got on to our credit card company, so hopefully they have now blocked the payments. But the thing that angers me most is the Government has approved this company and they have forced us to hand over money we might not get back."

Mr Attwood, 59, said: "I am absolutely stomping mad. What Boris has done a year into this catastrophe is utterly incredible."

The couple, who have repeatedly tried to contact 001Doctor but so far had no response, are phoned every day by Test and Trace officials who check that they are self-isolating and ask whether they have taken their tests – something they have been unable to do because the tests have never arrived.

Their 10-day quarantine is due to end on Friday but, without the tests, they have been told they should not leave their Bedfordshire home. They have sought separate advice from the police and may now have to pay another company on the Government list for further tests after DHSC refused to help them.

On Trustpilot, one customer who has heard nothing for 10 days and been unable to contact 001Doctor, said: "The Government has not put anything in place to protect individuals following the rules when the private laboratory system fails."

Clients have left 461 reviews on Trustpilot, of which 97 per cent are rated "bad" – the worst ranking a company can get.

A spokesman for 001Doctor.uk said: "Demand has been unprecedented. Many of the private suppliers have struggled to keep up with demand. It's been like building a plane while flying it and the company has hit a number of issues. The sheer volume of demand has caused a couple of glitches and we are working to sort these out as quickly as possible."

On its website, the firm says it was created to "improve the Covid-19 PCR, antigen and antibody testing capacity in Great Britain".

A Cambridge-educated GP, Dr Bruce Websdale, was identified as "one of our doctors" on the 001Doctor.uk website, although his name has since been removed. According to Companies House, Dr Websdale is also listed as a director of 001Doctor Uk Ltd, a company set up in November. He was appointed a director in January.

A DHSC spokesman said: "We do not endorse or recommend any particular private test provider for quarantine test packages. All private providers of Covid-19 tests must meet the minimum required standards and are reviewed by the independent United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS).

"The list of private test suppliers is continually updated to ensure that the providers listed meet the required standards. We are carefully monitoring issues raised by the public about private test providers and are taking action where appropriate, including removing providers from the list."