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'They're overwhelmed': Man who fears he may have coronavirus says he was given wrong information by NHS

James Morris
Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
Mike Tinmouth started suffering coronavirus symptoms following his trip to Asia, but was unable to secure a test back home in London (Mike Tinmouth)

A man who suspects he may have coronavirus has said the NHS’s 111 service is “overwhelmed” after it failed to book an appointment to test him.

Mike Tinmouth also claimed 111 – the first port of call for people with suspected coronavirus – gave him incorrect information and failed to return his calls over the past week.

He said it was only when he appeared on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire Show on Wednesday that the service got back in touch and arranged a test for Thursday.

Tinmouth, who has been in self-isolation since Tuesday last week, told Yahoo News UK: “I still don’t know what I’ve got, or had. You see people on the TV saying everything will be OK and that they are investing money. That’s not the experience of the people in the call centres.

“My local centre said they have had so many calls that they have been overwhelmed. They are incredibly well-intentioned – but overwhelmed.”

In response, the NHS said it is “ramping up the number of testing centres across the country, so that 10,000 tests can be carried out daily”.

Londoner Tinmouth, 39, had returned from a trip to Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia when he started suffering a runny nose, headache and mild cough on Tuesday last week.

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When he got a fever the following day, Tinmouth called 111 and was told it was flu. The service “advised me I probably didn’t have coronavirus, and didn’t need to self-isolate”.

However, his fever and cough got worse and he called 111 back on Saturday. “I was told I was given the wrong information,” he said, “and should have been tested from the outset. They said they could call back to arrange a test. That call never came back to me.”

A file image of an NHS 111 centre in Glasgow (PA)

After further unsuccessful attempts to contact 111, he was told on Tuesday there had been a system error.

On Wednesday, “I went on the Victoria Derbyshire Show and lo and behold, I get a call back and a test was arranged for Thursday.

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“But it will be four to five days before I find out the results, meaning I will have gone the full 14 days [the coronavirus incubation period] without knowing.”

Tinmouth, a freelance adviser to tech start-ups, said the symptoms actually started to subside on Wednesday.

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However, he added: “Given how long I’ve been waiting, I am almost coming out of the other end. I’m on the road, I hope, to recover from whatever it is I’ve got. But that’s part of the issue, not knowing.

“I am a freelancer and I’ve got to go back to my life at some stage, because no one is going to pay me for staying at home. There are people [in similar positions] who are going to give up.”

Tinmouth, who has been documenting his illness on Twitter, also asked: “What happens to older people who have underlying health conditions and who aren’t on social media, hammering on their smartphones? They are relying on someone else and this could get very serious.”

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An NHS spokesman said: “As the chief medical officer has said, the NHS could well come under pressure because of coronavirus and, as the whole country responds to this new virus, to help people get checked quickly, we are already ramping up the number of testing centres across the country, so that 10,000 tests can be carried out daily, while additional investment means that more call handlers will be recruited to NHS 111 to give expert advice to callers with concerns about the virus.

“Anyone with concerns about coronavirus can use the NHS 111 online service, and while the 111 phone line is understandably busy, and people may have to wait longer than usual, all enquiries are being responded to thanks to hard NHS working staff.”