A CARLISLE man faced the prospect of a four-hour round trip to find out if he had Covid-19.

Darren Johnstone, 41, was shocked that the only available places he could get a test last week were Edinburgh Airport and Galashiels.

Despite Carlisle having a walk-in test centre at Castle Car Park, Devonshire Walk, and a drive through facility at Carlisle Lake District Airport, no availability showed up for Cumbria when he had tried to book through the NHS website.

“I couldn’t believe it, I truly couldn’t. It’s a two-hour journey there and back [to Edinburgh] and I could barely drive to the end of my street,” said Mr Johnstone.

“I’m a fit and well guy. I train three or four times a week in various sports and I’m just bedridden.”

After starting to display symptoms of the virus on Monday, Mr Johnston started self-isolating and decided he needed to book a test.

He is self-employed and said he couldn’t afford to take anymore time off than was necessary, once he felt better and if he hadn’t contracted Covid-19.

The first five or six times Mr Johnstone tried to book for both a walk-in and drive-thru test on Wednesday, there was nothing to book at all and got messages to say the system was overwhelmed.

When he later tried again, he could see that 110 tests were available at Edinburgh Airport.

“It was the only availability,” said Mr Johnstone. “On Thursday the only available place to get a test was Galashiels, which is another 60 odd miles from here.

“It was quite concerning that they would send you to these various areas.”

Luckily, he managed to get a test on Thursday through a company he has been working with. Though this will be to pay for, it ruled out having to travel across the border for a test.

On Saturday, however, he found there were 105 appointments available to book at Carlisle Airport and a further 79 at Castle Car Park.

Along with the testing centres in Carlisle, mobile testing units can also be booked.

These units - at Keswick’s Old Pencil Factory site, the County Council Highways Depot at Lillyhall, Egremont RUFC and other locations in the south of the county - operate on various dates.

There are also two dates for testing at Penrith Rugby Club, where a drive-thru test centre closed last month.

Last week almost 10,000 people were tested in Cumbria.

Director of Public Health Colin Cox said testing is happening but challenge is the increased demand.

"When people suggest the test system is broken it may look like that but the test system is testing more people than ever before," he said.

"The amount of testing that is being done is enormous, it's just not keeping up with demand because the demand is so high."

Mr Cox said a lot of the increased demand for tests has been associated with children and young people returning to school, where another virus with classic Covid symptoms is circulating.

He added that what is also driving demand is when people get tested for reassurance, or because they might have been identified as a contact. He said this is not recommended as they will still have to isolate either way.

Mr Cox explained until a couple of weeks ago, when the system reached the national laboratory capacity, anywhere not identified as a priority - where there wasn’t a significant outbreak - was being taken off the national booking system.

“Cumbria used to be in that position but a fortnight ago we agreed with the Department of Health that because of Cumbria’s geography our mobile testing units would not get taken off and treated as a priority," he said.